Decades after disaster, English football fans can still stand their ground

There was a time when thousands of fans at every English football match stood throughout the match in spectator areas without seats. Bu...


There was a time when thousands of fans at every English football match stood throughout the match in spectator areas without seats. But after fans were crushed to death in the Hillsborough disaster in 1989, standing areas were banned as dangerous.

Still, many fans languished nostalgically for the days they were on their feet. And now, after many years, England’s top two football leagues will once again be allowed to add standing areas, with guarantees, the Sports Field Safety Authoritya government advisory council said on Wednesday.

In the past, pedestal fans were installed in concrete sloping areas. Often there were more fans standing than sitting at games.

It was a cheaper way to see the game, and the proximity to other enthusiasts often created a great atmosphere. But areas would get rowdy at times, and especially after a goal, influxes of fans could knock people down.

At the height of hooliganism in the 70s and 80s, fights sometimes broke out between rival fan groups. This has led to the teams erecting fences to separate the standing supporters from their rivals, and sometimes from the pitch as well.

That fence was a powerful contributor to the Hillsborough disaster, when nearly 100 Liverpool fans on a crowded terrace standing in an FA Cup semi-final in Sheffield were crushed to death.

Although standing was not the direct cause of the disaster – bad police were, according to surveys – the government nonetheless banned standing during matches and insisted that every spectator be given a seat.

But for 30 years, many fans have carried the torch to stand tall at the games. They said they missed the atmosphere and the ranking could be organized more safely than at its peak. They also noted that many fans held onto their seats for a good chunk of matches anyway.

Although the movement on the issue has taken decades, permanent advocates have gained momentum and, recently, approval has seemed imminent. Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, which opened in 2019, was designed with two areas that could quickly be converted to so-called safe areas if allowed.

Teams from the top two divisions can apply now to start standing areas in January. But these areas will be very different from the old open concrete slopes.

First, there will be seats that fold down, so fans can choose to sit if they wish. No more than one fan for each seat will be allowed in the area, to avoid the tight crowds that have often been seen in the last century.

In addition, metal rails will be placed between each row. Fans can lean on them, and they will also help keep people in their own ranks, preventing outbursts of excited humanity that could be dangerous.

The security position has been implemented elsewhere in the world, with success. German high-level stadiums include thousands of seats for spectators. Orlando City, LAFC, and Minnesota are on MLS teams with secure parking zones. In Great Britain, Celtic of Glasgow began allowing a few thousand standing passengers in the 2016-17 season.

“We are delighted to finally claim victory for the FSA’s Safe Standing campaign,” said Kevin Miles, chief executive of the Football Supporters’ Association, a fan advocacy group. in a press release Wednesday. “Today’s announcement is the result of an extended and sustained campaign by football fans.”

Arsenal general manager Vinai Venkatesham said on Wednesday the club will meet with fans next week to discuss adding standing areas. “This is something that we are looking at,” he said. “We have to see what the implications will be, such as reducing capacity. But we’ll listen to what our fans are saying and explore what can be done. “

Tariq Panja contributed to reporting from London.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Decades after disaster, English football fans can still stand their ground
Decades after disaster, English football fans can still stand their ground
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