Safe standing is a term used to describe various design options in stadia to allow spectators to stand at events. It is primarily used in the context of association football in the United Kingdom, where a series of fatal incidents led to legislation requiring major clubs to develop all-seater stadiums during the 1990s. Since then, fans groups have campaigned against the ban on standing accommodation, arguing that new design options would allow designated standing areas to be built in compliance with all safety laws and guidelines. As these options are outlawed in England and Wales, safe standing in practice originated in continental Europe, primarily Germany. This occurred because although UEFA and FIFA required all-seater stadiums for international competition, it was not mandatory for domestic matches.
- 1 Background
- 2 Forms of safe standing
- 3 Arguments for and against safe standing
- 4 Safe standing campaign
- 5 See also
- 6 References
Traditionally most football grounds in the United Kingdom had terraces at each end and often on lower tiers along each side. Most supporters watched football standing up. In the late 1980s the average standing capacity in grounds was roughly twice the number of seats. Some football administrators saw the removal of terraces as a solution to a problem with hooliganism that had arisen in British society in the 1970s. Under the chairmanship of Jimmy Hill, Coventry City’s Highfield Road became England’s first all-seater football stadium in 1981. However, the experiment failed to prevent disorder or increase attendances and two years later seats were removed from part of the ground.
On 15 April 1989 a crush on the Leppings Lane terrace of Hillsborough during an FA Cup semi final resulted in the deaths of ninety-six Liverpool supporters. Overcrowding had resulted from a gate being opened on police instructions to relieve severe congestion outside the ground and failure to direct supporters away from the already full central pens. Fences at the front of the terrace prevented fans escaping the crush. The subsequent inquiry led by Lord Justice Taylor concluded that the immediate cause of the disaster was the failure to cut off access to the central pens when the gate was opened. His report stated that the pens were already overfull because no safe capacities had been set and there was no effective way of monitoring crowd density. Taylor showed that the turnstile access for Liverpool supporters was inadequate and that the congestion outside the ground was therefore predictable. He was highly critical of South Yorkshire Police’s planning and performance on the day and of the conduct of senior officers at the inquiry.
Lord Taylor noted that the evidence he received was overwhelmingly in favour of more seating accommodation and that most was in favour of reversing the two thirds to one third standing / seating ratio. The Taylor Report made 76 recommendations, including that, after a given timescale, all stadia designated under the Safety of Sports Ground Act 1975 should admit spectators to seated accommodation only. A number of his recommendations were not implemented, including all-seating for sports other than football.
The 1989 Football Spectators Act contained a regulation requiring football grounds to become all-seated as directed by the Secretary of State. This was to be overseen by the Football Licensing Authority (now the Sport Grounds Safety Authority). In July 1992, the British Government announced a relaxation of the regulation for the lower two English leagues (known now as League One and League Two). The Football Spectators Act does not cover Scotland and although the Scottish Premier League chose to make all-seater stadia a requirement of league membership for some time, this rule was relaxed in December 2011. In England and Wales all-seating is a requirement of the Premier League and of the Football League for clubs who have been present in the Championship for more than three seasons.
Forms of safe standing
The relevant UK guidelines for sports ground safety, the Green Guide, sets out the parameters for building and managing modern standing terraces. New stadia, such as Morecambe FC’s Globe Arena (opened in 2010) with standing for over 4,000 spectators and St. Helens rugby League club's Langtree Park (opened in 2012) with standing for almost 8,000, continue to be built with terraces and are operated safely in accordance with the Guide.
In addition to well-designed conventional terraces other forms of accommodation for standing spectators have been developed outside of the UK, which can also be considered options for the creation of safe standing areas. One country that has developed such alternative forms of standing accommodation is Germany. All German Bundesliga grounds permit standing and many have very large standing areas. Until as recently as 2004, for instance, top-flight German club Borussia Mönchengladbach's home stadium, the Bökelbergstadion, provided standing accommodation for over 25,000 fans and seats for under 9,000. Today, Borussia Dortmund's Signal Iduna Park (aka the Westfalenstadion) provides standing accommodation for 25,000 fans in its South Stand, which is commonly called the Yellow Wall.
The standing accommodation at many German grounds is in the form of conventional terraces. The alternative forms of accommodation have been developed for those grounds at which not only domestic games are played, but also games under the jurisdiction of the sport’s European and/or world governing bodies, i.e. UEFA and FIFA respectively. Since the summer of 1998, UEFA has specified that all games in its competitions (at that time the Champions League and UEFA Cup, now the Europa League) must be played in all-seater stadia. In order to continue to accommodate standing fans at domestic matches and yet be able to convert their stadia into all-seater facilities for UEFA games, the German clubs developed a range of solutions. Some clubs use more than one option.
Several clubs adapt their grounds to UEFA all-seater requirements by bolting temporary seats to the steps of otherwise essentially conventional terraces and removing the crush barriers. After the UEFA match, the seats are then removed again and the barriers put back. Stadia that operate in this way include those of Schalke 04, Borussia Dortmund and Borussia Mönchengladbach.
A small number of clubs adapt to the UEFA requirements by using seats that fold away under aluminium terrace steps. For domestic games such areas look like conventional terraces with intermittent crush barriers. For UEFA games the barriers are removed, the aluminium steps folded back and the seats flipped up. After the UEFA game, the procedure is reversed. German clubs using fold-away seats are Hamburg SV, VfB Stuttgart, Fortuna Düsseldorf, Bayer Leverkusen and FC Bayern Munich.
Almost half of the top-flight Bundesliga clubs convert standing areas to all-seater configuration by using rail seats. Each metal seat is incorporated within a robust metal frame that forms a waist-high rail for the spectators in the row behind. These seat frames are installed on a permanent basis with the same spacing as standard seats. The frames interlock to form a continuous high-strength rail along the full length of each row. Rail heights vary between 90 and 115 cm. For domestic games the seats remain locked flush between the uprights of each frame, thus providing accommodation and maximum space for standing fans between rows of the waist-high rails. Prior to UEFA games, the seats are unlocked, thus transforming the area into all-seater configuration. After the UEFA game, the seats are locked again in the upright position ready for use by standing fans at the next domestic match. German clubs using rail seats include Werder Bremen, Hamburg SV, VfL Wolfsburg, Hannover 96, TSG 1899 Hoffenheim, VfB Stuttgart, Bayer Leverkusen and Borussia Dortmund.
Arguments for and against safe standing
A range of arguments are put forward in favour of all-seating and against the return of standing areas to the top divisions of football in England and Wales. Four, the issues of demand, safety, crowd disorder and diversity, are summarised below:
In 2011, the standard government reply to those writing to ministers and MPs stated, "Before any change in legislation there would have to be a very clear demand".
Polls of supporters repeatedly show a clear majority favouring the choice to stand, with an average of around 80% supporting the introduction of standing areas in the top divisions. In a poll by The Football Fans Census (January 2009) 92% of 2,046 respondents voted that fans should be given the choice to stand in safe standing areas. A similar survey, run by the Football Supporters Federation and reported upon on the BBC website on 17 August 2012, showed that 91.1% of fans want the choice to sit or stand. A new survey in 2015 showed that 96% of football fans in the UK backed a safe standing pilot to trial modern stadium technology.
According to Peter Caton in his book Stand Up Sit Down, demand for standing is also illustrated by the number of supporters who stand in front of their seats in all-seater stadia, which in 2011 he estimated to be 65,000 per week. Peter Caton goes on to claim that demand is also illustrated by the many examples at lower league clubs where a greater number of supporters often choose to stand than sit (e.g. Accrington Stanley, Burton Albion, Dagenham & Redbridge, Stevenage, Torquay United).
Safety is commonly perceived[by whom?] to be the main reason for all-seating. The Taylor Report refers to capacity control, stating that seating allows those in charge to know the exact number of supporters in a particular part of a ground. He also refers to swaying and surging, stating that these cannot occur in all-seated stadia, where, he says, "involuntary and uncontrolled crowd movements occasioned by incidents in the game are effectively eliminated".
This has been mitigated by access technology, as laid down by the Green Guide at all major UK football grounds. Longer crush barriers allow a far shorter unhindered run. With rail seats, where there is a barrier along every row, surging is physically impossible. The Taylor Report includes the statement made by the Technical Working Party, whose report Lord Taylor accepted, that "standing accommodation is not intrinsically unsafe".
It has been argued[by whom?] that standing encourages crowd disorder. However, analysis of statistics on football related arrests and banning orders published by the UK Home Office show that in both the 2008/9 and 2009/10 seasons the rate of arrest per 100,000 supporters was higher at League One and League Two clubs with all-seated grounds than at those with standing. Overall arrest rates for football related offences have fallen steadily from 34 per 100,000 in 1988/89 to 9 per 100,000 in 2009/10, however the trend of reducing arrests started before stadia were required to become all-seated and has continued since.
It is sometimes said[by whom?] that all-seated stadia have led to increased diversity of those attending football matches. It is true that more families attend matches than they did in the 1970s and 1980s when hooliganism was a major problem, but this increased diversity has occurred at grounds retaining terraces as well. Increased prices, which are partly related to the lack of lower cost standing accommodation, has however led to a reduction in the number of teenage supporters attending football and an increase in the average age of crowds. Level Playing Field (the trading name of the National Association of Disabled Supporters) has no objection in principle to safe standing areas per se, provided they do not impact on facilities / services for disabled fans or hinder their views or sightlines.
Safe standing campaign
England and Wales
After publication of the Taylor Report there was opposition to the all-seater recommendation from the Football Supporters Association, but no concerted campaign was mounted. With the Hillsborough disaster fresh in the memory, there was no appetite to oppose Taylor’s recommendations. The first serious campaign in support of the choice to stand was set up in 1999, initially with the aim of securing standing areas at Manchester City’s new stadium: SAFE – Standing Areas for Eastlands. With the backing of the Football Supporters Association the campaign then became, SAFE – Standing Areas for England.
In 2001, the Football Supporters Association and National Federation of Football Supporters Clubs merged, becoming the Football Supporters Federation (FSF). In 2002, safe standing became an official FSF campaign. In 2004, a new campaign, Stand Up Sit Down was set up, initially with the aim that suitable areas of all-seated grounds should be allocated for ‘managed standing’ in front of seats. The campaign soon broadened to back other solutions for standing and in September 2009 merged with the FSF’s 'Safe Standing' campaign.
The Safe Standing Roadshow works alongside the FSF to promote rail seats. The FSF see 'rail seats' as the most suitable safe standing solution for Premier League and Championship stadia, as they enable clubs that have an expectation of playing in European competition to provide accommodation for standing spectators at domestic games while being able to convert such areas to all-seater configuration to fulfil UEFA and FIFA requirements. The roadshow has persuaded some clubs to support safe standing.
As of May 2013, a total of 25 clubs in England and Wales playing in the Premier League and Football League have backed safe-standing. Premier League clubs who have expressed support for safe standing include Manchester City, Aston Villa and Swansea City.
In December 2013, the Football League sent a document to each of its member clubs asking for their opinion on standing accommodation. Around 70% of the clubs indicated in this consultation that they wanted the Football League to lobby the Government for a change in the rules to permit safe standing areas for football matches, which the League executive agreed to do.
In 2014 Bristol City FC installed a small demonstration block of rail seats  and announced plans to install two areas of rail seating during redevelopment of the stadium starting that summer. Initially the “safe standing” areas would only be used during Bristol Rugby matches held at the stadium as the current regulations prohibit their use for football matches. Peterborough United FC also revealed plans to install safe standing rail seats in the Moy's End section of London Road Stadium over the summer if government regulations would allow.
In July 2014, the Welsh Assembly passed a motion by 26 votes to 1 (with 20 abstentions) calling for a pilot of safe standing in Wales. In February 2015, the Welsh Conservatives then published the results of a survey showing 96% backing for a pilot from supporters.
The legislation that relates to all-seater accommodation at football grounds in England and Wales (the 1989 Football Spectators Act) does not apply in Scotland. In 1998, the Scottish Premier League made it a condition of membership that clubs had to have an all-seater stadium. Many clubs outside Scotland's top tier have standing sections in their stadiums; they can be used in the Scottish Cup, Scottish League Cup, Scottish Challenge Cup matches along with matches in the Scottish Football League Divisions 1, 2 and 3. On 19 December 2011, the Scottish Premier League announced that its all-seater requirement was being relaxed and that member clubs would be permitted to apply to pilot safe standing areas at their grounds. Scottish TV reported that "The league’s chief executive, Neil Doncaster, says a particular form of safe standing currently used by eight top-flight teams in Germany, known as rail seats, will be the permitted form of new-style terracing". Nine out of twelve SPL clubs immediately indicated an interest in safe standing.
The Western Sydney Wanderers plan to install German style rail seating into the Red & Black Bloc active support section of their home ground Parramatta Stadium, as part of a larger capacity and facility upgrade in 2014. The stadium imported 7 sets of rail seats into the country, and performed a successful trial installation at the ground.
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