After the Hillsborough disaster in 1989, where 96 Liverpool fans were tragically crushed to death, the Taylor Report and subsequent Football Spectators Act mandated all teams in the top two divisions of English football to have all-seated stadia.
This draconian rule continues today, sapping the atmosphere out of our stadia. New clubs promoted into the second tier (now the Championship) have three years to convert their stadium or have their terraces closed, and clubs with any ambition building a new stadium naturally make it all-seated. Fans sitting down are quieter and it feels like you’re observing an event from afar rather than stood on your feet taking part in it. Furthermore, what we have at the moment is an inconsistent culture where away fans especially will stand in seated areas where possible, unless a particularly strict set of stewards lay down the law early. I’ve been to so many matches where the only time I’ve folded down my seat was to rest my legs at half time.
With a small plastic tripping hazard in front, it is so easy for someone to fall forward into the next row, potentially creating a domino effect. Here, seating creates an unsafe situation which puts fans at risk and inflames tensions if and when they are told to sit sometimes well into the game.
But there is a clear solution. Rail seating provides a bar in front of every row to prevent crowd surging, with a seat which can be unlocked by ground staff when regulations dictate an all-seater stadium is necessary. Tickets can be allocated for a particular standing space or small area. This is far safer than the current norm of standing in seated areas.
Furthermore, research has shown that with safe standing, more fans can be accommodated in the same space, which will help our clubs’ revenues and allow even more fans in to watch the biggest games.
Of course, no fan would be forced to stand at a match. In Germany, where Bundesliga clubs have been some of the pioneers of safe standing technologies, seats generally cost more, are usually in the prime viewing areas of the stadium and constitute the vast majority of fan areas.
Safe standing is in no way a blight on the memory of the 96 Liverpool fans who tragically lost their lives, as has been suggested. Even some of their families have come out in support, correctly identifying that the deaths of their loved ones were caused by failure to count fans in and a catalogue of policing, planning and infrastructural faults, not the fact they were standing.
Four-fifths of Norwich fans surveyed recently by the Evening News were in favour of safe standing. An even higher proportion of Liverpool fans surveyed said the same.
Time will tell if Norwich City’s German revolution will work on the pitch. Off it, there is a growing consensus Carrow Road should join the list of stadia looking to follow in the footsteps of their state-of-the-art European counterparts and install rail seats.
Celtic blazed a trail as the first British club to install rail seating last year, because Scottish league matches do not fall under the Football Supporters Act or UEFA regulations which prevent standing areas.
The more clubs that follow the Glaswegians’ lead, the sooner football’s governing bodies might realise it’s no longer a choice between buzzing atmospheres and safety. Rail seating can give us both.