Everyone stand up, we’re back in the olden days. A turning point for football is just around the corner.
Needless to say, it comes from UK, right where football was born — more precisely, it’s Shrewsbury Town, a League One side based not far from Welsh border, who look set to bring about a revolution by becoming the first professional club in England to resume the tradition of attending football matches upright.
Safe standing is the jargon football fans use to refer to those sections of the stadium where you can watch the game while standing and leaning on a railing. It is no news for Celtic Park as well as many Bundesliga stadiums, where the measure has already been put in place. In fact, taking off a single seat leaves enough room for 1,8 supporters, bringing clear benefits in terms of atmosphere.
However, the safe standing was banned by the English government in the late 80s, after the Hillsborough disaster led to the death of 96 Liverpool supporters. One year from that moment, the Taylor report made seats the only legal way to watch a live football match in England. The birth of the Premier League in 1992 did the rest, boosting the revenues coming from sponsors, TV rights and foreign tycoons, all of which contributed to turn football stadiums into cutting-edge packed theatres whose atmosphere, however, leaves much to be desired, especially if compared with other European arenas.
Let’s say that our opponents don’t fear our stadiums anymore,
Shrewsbury Town fan Roger Groves told MondoFutbol. “There’s a bit of a muffled environment, I think we’ve lost something over the years.” Since he was a kid, in the 70s, he hasn’t missed a single home game. Roger, who’s amongst the promoters of a return to the safe standing, recalls: “The old stadium (Gay Meadow) was falling to pieces but the fans were in love with it. Only a section actually had seats, everyone else would watch the match standing. With this project we want to give back to the supporters something they were proud of. Also, to be the first club to reintroduce the safe standing will advertise for our town.”
Convincing a solid fanbase wasn’t a big issue — it only took a couple of polls and the club’s support to launch a crowdfunding campaign which got underway last year and has just finished.
For Bristol City supporter Jon Darch, who has actively participated in the initiative, it’s a dream coming true, an interest derived from his penchant for foreign languages, particularly German: “A few years ago, while I was visiting Germany on business, I also followed Union Berlin, my second favourite team, and I got convinced that the safe standing could be exported to England,” Jon told MondoFutbol. “Many believe that watching the match upright means bringing the terraces back, and it recalls of all the tragedies in the 80s. In fact, as I explained on my website, the infrastructures are extremely safe.”
According to Jon, it’s all about making a choice: “It’s almost a non-written rule: many fans watch the match standing.
If you support West Ham, Newcastle or Manchester United and you want to attend an away game, you have no choice: you have to stand.
If you follow rugby or horse racing you get to choose: you can be seated or upright.”
When West Ham moved to the Olympic Stadium there were several rifts between supporters who wanted to stand during the match, like they used to do at Upton Park, and the ones who claimed the right to have a seat with a good view, most of whom were new season members.
But the time is ripe for a change. Last summer, the Premier League asked clubs to take a vote on a potential reintroduction of the safe standing. The vast majority of clubs has voted in favour, and English football summits are expected to discuss the proposal with the government in the next few months.
Liverpool supporters were key to the initiative, as one of their main groups, “The Spirit of Shankly“, consulted some of the parents of the Hillsborough disaster’s victims before expressing their support for the idea.
However, before the safe standing is actually reintroduced in the Kop or at Tottenham’s new White Hart Lane, the immediate future is called Shrewsbury Town.
After all the paperwork, the club now aim to inaugurate the new section of their stadium within the season, hoping to celebrate a promotion to the Championship on the occasion.
The 65,000£ needed to fund the project were gathered with the help of Tifosy, the crowdfunding company that supports this kind of initiatives.
Our aim is to get supporters closer to their clubs by helping them realise something they believe in,
Tifosy co-founder James Pollock told MondoFutbol. “Thanks to Shrewsbury Town we filled a gap. The idea of bringing back the safe standing has been around for years, we were just looking for the right club and fans to embark on this adventure.”
Tifosy is involved in several projects both in UK and abroad — some campaigns, just like Shrewsbury Town’s, are based on a reward, while others see football clubs borrowing considerable sums from supporters in order to carry out projects. All of which is much better than borrowing money from a bank, James claims: “It is a way to create a synergy between fans and clubs. Both feel responsible and we have the duty to verify that teams keep their promises and invest those funds.
We know that supporters’ choices are often dictated by emotions, therefore their investments must be protected.
Passion, participation and common values.
The idea that could change English football for the better comes from below, and it certainly deserves a standing ovation.
Cover photo ©LaPresse
Article photos ©LaPresse