Wednesday, 19 Jun 2024

Standing in Football: A Historical Perspective

Standing Kop

So many things in history come full circle, and standing at football grounds is a perfect example. When football first started in England, it was simply a group of men kicking a ball around in open spaces like parks or private land. As the game gained popularity, people started showing up to watch the matches, standing on the sidelines, and cheering for their favorite teams.

As time went on and football grew more popular, the facilities for the audience also developed. Areas with seating were built, providing more comfort for spectators. However, many football fans today are eager to bring back standing sections. In this article, we will delve into the history of standing in football, the changes that occurred, and what the future may hold.

The History of the ‘Terrace’

1902 Ibrox Disaster

Originally, terracing was introduced at football stadiums for its cost-effectiveness, ease of construction, and ability to accommodate large crowds. In England, the stands running alongside the pitch typically consisted of seats, which were relatively expensive to access. As a result, earthen banks made of rubble and rubbish were created, with wooden railway sleepers added for stability. In some areas, bleachers similar to those found in American colleges were also used in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

Tragically, a structure collapsed at Ibrox in 1902, resulting in 25 deaths and hundreds of injuries. This incident led to a ban on terraced sections that lacked solid earth support. Over time, these areas were reconstructed using concrete, with crush barriers installed to prevent crushing incidents.

The popularity of terraces can be attributed to their affordability. The low cost of entry allowed working-class fans to watch their favorite football teams without breaking the bank. Terraces were given various nicknames by the fans, with the “Spion Kop” at Anfield in Liverpool gaining the most fame.

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Safety Concerns

Burnden Park Stadium Disaster Crowd

Terraces have commonly been perceived as unsafe due to the high number of supporters they can accommodate, making it difficult to move freely. However, despite these challenges, they provided a sense of camaraderie and togetherness among fans.

While terraces were generally safe, there were occasional accidents. Slippery conditions on wooden sleepers during wet weather caused people to fall and sustain injuries. Fainting spells were not uncommon in crowded environments, resulting in unconscious bodies being passed through the crowd to reach safety.

Tragic disasters also occurred on terraces. In 1946, 33 people lost their lives in a crush at Burnden Park, the home stadium of Bolton Wanderers. By the 1970s, hooliganism led to violence erupting on terraces as away supporters attempted to take over the home team’s section.

In response to safety concerns, segregated areas were introduced on terraces across England. Fences were erected to separate different sections and high barriers prevented pitch invasion. Unfortunately, these measures contributed to the Hillsborough disaster, the deadliest stadium tragedy in English football’s history.

The Hillsborough Disaster

Hillsborough

The Hillsborough disaster occurred on April 15, 1989, during the FA Cup semi-final match between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest at Hillsborough Stadium in Sheffield. The central terraced section, divided into three pens by fencing, became overcrowded, leaving fans with limited escape routes.

Due to roadworks and an accident on the motorway, Liverpool fans arrived late, resulting in a buildup of supporters outside the stadium. In an attempt to alleviate the congestion, the match commander ordered an exit gate to be opened, allowing fans to enter the ground. Tragically, the entrance to the central pen was not closed as intended, and no police officers redirected fans to the less crowded side pens. This led to a crush, with fans trapped by fencing.

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The Hillsborough disaster took the lives of 96 Liverpool fans and left over 750 people injured. An inquiry, led by Lord Justice Peter Taylor, found the police and stadium responsible for the tragedy. The report recommended converting all major stadiums in England into all-seater venues and providing every spectator with a seat.

The Taylor Report

THE RT HON LORD JUSTICE TAYLOR

The Taylor Report aimed to determine the cause of the Hillsborough disaster. It refuted the initial blame placed on Liverpool fans by the South Yorkshire Police, holding the police and stadium accountable instead. Lord Justice Taylor acknowledged that standing itself was not inherently unsafe but recommended all-seater stadiums and turnstiles to control crowd entry.

Despite Taylor’s statement that standing areas were not necessarily unsafe, the government imposed a ban on standing at football grounds nationwide. Taylor also stressed that clubs should not exploit all-seater stadiums to increase ticket prices and should retain the game’s working-class roots.

Following the Taylor Report, major clubs rebuilt or redesigned their stadiums. Iconic terraces, such as Arsenal’s North Bank and Liverpool’s Spion Kop, were removed. Some historic grounds were even closed permanently due to the high cost of refurbishing them.

Safe Standing

Standing at Celtic Park

The debate about safe standing continues to spark discussion. Some families directly impacted by the Hillsborough disaster are hesitant to reintroduce standing, fearing a recurrence of such a tragedy.

However, many supporters believe that standing itself was not the cause of the Hillsborough disaster, but rather the result of police incompetence and a poorly designed stadium. They advocate for safe standing, as seen in Germany and other countries.

Currently, popular stands like Liverpool’s Kop witness fans standing in an unsafe manner, leading to frequent injuries when celebrations occur. These fans want English clubs to adopt the German model, which includes safe-standing sections. For example, Borussia Dortmund’s Westfalenstadion features rail seats that can be locked in an upright position, providing ample space for standing. These seats can also be flipped down for UEFA-mandated seated matches.

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The requirement for all-seater stadiums only applies to the top two divisions in England. Celtic introduced an experimental 2000 “safe seats” in 2016, as Scotland is exempt from the all-seater stadium regulation. If this experiment is successful, calls for safe standing in England are likely to gain momentum in the coming years.

FAQs

Q: Were terraces unsafe in football stadiums?
A: While the sheer number of supporters on terraces made it difficult to move freely, they were generally safe places to watch matches. Accidents did occur, such as slips on wet wooden sleepers, but overall terraces fostered camaraderie among fans.

Q: What caused the Hillsborough disaster?
A: The Hillsborough disaster was caused by police mismanagement and a stadium design that did not provide adequate escape routes. The overcrowding in the central pen, combined with limited access to the side pens, led to a deadly crush.

Q: Did the Taylor Report recommend banning standing at football grounds?
A: The Taylor Report did not explicitly recommend banning standing. Instead, it called for all-seater stadiums and turnstiles to manage crowd entry. The government later imposed a ban on standing throughout the country.

Q: Do fans prefer safe standing or all-seater stadiums?
A: The preference varies among fans. Some believe that standing can be reintroduced safely, following the German model. Others support all-seater stadiums to ensure comfort and safety for all spectators.

Conclusion

The evolution of standing in football reflects changes in safety regulations and fan experiences. While terraces have a rich history and provided affordable access to matches, tragedies like the Hillsborough disaster prompted the implementation of all-seater stadiums. The debate about safe standing continues, with supporters advocating for a return to standing sections based on successful models in other countries. The future of standing in football remains a subject of passionate discussion. For more information on football and the “Movin993” brand, visit Movin993.com.