By Shaun Payne
On a hot day in April in 1989, the face of English football was forever changed after tragedy struck in the Hillsborough Stadium in Sheffield, home to Sheffield Wednesday FC when ninety-six spectators were killed at an FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest.
The large crowd that had gathered to take their place in the Leppings Lane end of the stadium, which was an all standing terrace on the lower tier, were ushered carelessly into the middle pen of the stand. The stand was divided into three pens, but due to a loss in police control of the incident, too many spectators were forced into one area resulting in a massive crush in which the ninety-six were killed. The front of all standing terraces in England incorporated large metal fences to prevent hooligans onto pitches. This of course in the incident of Hillsborough, prevented the unfortunate fans from escaping the crush, leading to mass injury and death.
The enquiry which proceeded the tragedy, The Taylor Report, blamed a lack of police control for the tragedy. But in addition to find the source of the problem, The Taylor Report was built to find resolutions. These recommendations made by the report suggested all stadiums in England should be stripped of their standing areas (along with the metal fences accompanying them) and converted in to all-seated venues. This report was implemented into the English game and for a generation has been the ‘norm’ of going to a football match on a Saturday afternoon.
However there have been many voices of dissent against the ruling of no-standing in English stadiums and there have been various campaigns to have terracing reintroduced into England but only if they are manufactured and governed with the best and safest technology possible.
On a typical Manchester United matchday, it is not unusual for fans occupying the top tier and often the lower tier of the Stretford End of Old Trafford to be standing up, and this is certainly the case on away days.
For many of the older generations, they will remember growing up in the Stretford End terracing accompanied with the infamous ‘Wonderful Gas’ sponsoring.
It is no secret that many Man United fans desire a return to standing areas at football matches and this is now something which is being considered by the new Coalition Government after calls from the likes of the Football Supporters’ Federation (FSF).
Current Sports Minister Hugh Robertson believes there is a good case for having standing areas back in football matches and believes all evidence should be examined before reviewing the situation.
A spokesman for the Department of Culture, Media and Sport recently weighed into the situation, saying:
“Football grounds are safer and more comfortable than they were 20 years ago. All-seater stadia are the best means to ensure the safety and security of fans and have been a contributing factor to the increased diversity of those attending matches in recent years.
“The Government appreciates that there are some supporters who would like to see the return of standing areas at football stadia, but do not believe that a compelling case has been made to change the policy.”[i]
So what is it that Old Trafford could do if there was to be a change in the law?
Safe standing zones in Germany have been commonplace in their domestic game offering a great way to contribute to an often vibrant atmosphere, whilst only having to pay of 11 Euros.
UEFA law for competitions such as the Champions League require stadiums to be all-seater and many of the Bundesliga clubs have an answer to this problem by installing adaptable seats. These seats can be pushed up and locked into place for domestic games when standing is permitted, and during European games, they are unlocked so that fans can be seated. In addition, the bars that are built in front of each row of standing to ensure fans can’t charge into rows in front of/behind them, whilst standing, are removed.
German Journalist, Raphael Honigstein who currently writes for the Guardian amongst many publications believes a mixture of common sense and strict checks can allow safe standing to be a success here in England, as it is in Germany:
“When it comes to cultural events, the licensing system in Germany is very strict, so you have to be able to show that everything is in place, there are constant checks, and they are very safe. Fortunately, in Germany we went through changes without having to suffer a Hillsborough, they were gradually introduced without any external pressure.”[ii]
English football is some way off the reintroduction of standing if it ever happens again at all, but it is certain that fans across a number of clubs including United, will continue to stand at matches, home and away.
It is no coincidence that the source of Old Trafford’s best atmosphere comes from the Stretford End, and yep, you guessed it…it is an unofficial standing area.
[ii]I Raphael Honigstein, London based German Sports Journalist, private interview, Hampstead Theatre, London, 21 April 2009
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