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The History Of Safe Standing In Football

What is Safe Standing?

The term safe standing describes a modern design option which allows spectators to safely stand whilst watching a sporting event – usually a football match. This type of spectating is described as “safe” because each fan has their own specific ticketed spot and individual rows are separated by barriers to prevent falling. All seater stadiums have been compulsory for the top two tiers of English and Welsh football since the Hillsborough Disaster of 1989. This is not popular with all fans – a growing number of supporters would like to have the option of being able to stand at a football game.

Safe standing areas have been used for some time in Germany, most notably at the Borussia Dortmund Signal Iduna Park or Westfalenstadion as it is also known, where avid football fans travel from far and wide to experience the ‘yellow wall’ section, where safe standing is implemented.

borussia dortmund

Celtic have also successfully introduced a 2900 capacity "safe standing section" in Scotland and a large number of football fans in England and Wales are actively campaigning for safe standing in top tier football stadiums to be introduced. The topic remains complex and highly emotive due to a number of past stadium disasters.

The Beginnings of Professional Football

According to FIFA, football has its origins in England, with the establishment of the modern-day game dating back as far as 1863 when it was distinguished from other ball games such as rugby. This year marked the formation of the Football Association (FA), the first governing body which established clear rules for the game.

As football steadily grew in popularity, so did its fan base. Non-playing club members became supporters and the game itself became an increasingly more structured sport with the introduction of the FA Challenge Cup – adequate venues were needed to host the games. Football also became a very inclusive game, providing a fun recreational activity for all members of society, especially the working class. During the period of the first and second world wars, football became a popular form of escapism and entertainment, with an increasingly large number of supporters going to watch games.

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Terraces

Terraces were originally developed in response to demand, cheaper ticket prices for the terraced areas meant that the working class were able to come and watch their favourite team play. The football clubs at that time were not run by the elite, and stadiums were designed to take in as many supporters and as much money as possible. Terraces provided a highly cost-effective solution, offering a flexible space which maximised capacity. Safety however, was clearly not a priority – early terraces were poorly constructed of wooden framing, all with the sole purpose of providing a vantage point to watch the game – some were built on unstable mounds of earth, rubble and junk and were prone to collapsing.

A History of Disasters

The 1902 disaster at the Ibrox Park Stadium in Glasgow, led to the death of 25 people and numerous injuries when a section of the then newly built West Tribune Stand collapsed due to heavy rainfall from the previous evening, dropping its occupants approximately 15 metres to the concrete floor beneath. After the disaster, it was decided that all terraces were to be constructed on sloped compressed earth or concrete.

In 1971, 66 people lost their lives at a crush leaving the Ibrox Park Stadium in Glasgow – a series of other disasters and the rise of hooliganism and violence associated with the 70s and 80s, which subsequently became synonymous with the terraces, meant that football stadiums were viewed by many members of society as dangerous places to be – rife with violence and hooliganism. The deplorable conditions found at stadiums were perhaps somewhat of a reflection of class attitudes at the time – a sense of anger and growing social unrest amongst the working classes in response to a number of factors including high unemployment levels in the 70s and 80s, were being channelled by some, through football associated violence and anti-social behaviour.

The Guide to Safety at Football Grounds was introduced following the 1971 Ibrox crush, although conditions at football stadiums remained unsafe and poorly maintained. The 1985 Bradford City Stadium fire claimed 56 lives – a lit cigarette butt slipped through a hole in a floorboard in one of the stands, igniting a layer of rubbish and debris which had accumulated underneath the stand without risers.

During the following years, traditional terraces were transformed into pens with crush barriers, the pens were surrounded by high fences to prevent fans from invading the pitch as well as taking over opposition terraces. These ineffective safety measures unfortunately contributed to one of the worst stadium disasters in the history of British football – the 1989 Hillsborough Disaster. A tragic incident in which 96 Liverpool supporters lost their lives in unsafe pens, a further 400 were taken to hospital. The events of the disaster unfolded as the police officer in charge of crowd safety on the day of the FA Cup semi-final, ordered a large gate to be opened to relieve 2,000 supporters waiting to enter the Hillsborough grounds, the supporters were trapped in a crush outside of the Leppings Lane turnstiles a short time before the game was about to start. The two central pens inside the stadium were already at full capacity, although the pens on either side of them were relatively empty, failure to order the closure of the tunnel which led to the two already full central pens plus a lack of adequate signage, meant that the incoming supporters were channelled into the crowded central pens. This left those already inside the pens with no means of escape due to the barriers, resulting in the worst disaster in the history of football.

A catalogue of circumstances and events including poor policing and crowd management, inadequate stewarding, inadequate turnstiles, an old unsafe stadium, poor ticketing, rusty fences, fans being caged in with no means of escape, non-local fans unfamiliar with the layout of the stadium and a slow emergency response to the situation are all factors which contributed towards the fateful event. Following the disaster, Lord Justice Taylor was appointed to conduct an inquiry into the events, the report concluded that the main cause of the disaster was failure of control by South Yorkshire Police. The Taylor report included the following statements:

"The picture revealed is of a general malaise or blight over the game due to a number of factors."

"Principally these are: old grounds, poor facilities, hooliganism, excessive drinking and poor leadership."

"The safety and comfort of those on the terraces has not been regarded as a priority."

"This inhospitable scene tends to breed bad manners and poor behaviour. The atmosphere does not encourage pride in the ground or consideration for others."

Following recommendations from the report, the government subsequently banned all standing accommodation for fans of the top two divisions and by 1994 all top division football stadiums were all-seaters.

Why Do Fans Want Safe Standing?

A More Atmospheric Experience

Many avid football fans are campaigning for safe standing – they view standing as part of the overall stadium experience and complain that the all-seater stadium lacks in spirit and vibrance. These fans wish to see a return to the fun and excitement of being able to stand, of what they see as a uniquely atmospheric way of supporting their team.

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"Safe Standing" is Safer

Although Premier League clubs are all-seaters, there are still a significant number of supporters who still stand, even with ticketed seats. This is not only a major inconvenience for those seated directly behind them, some of which may be physically unable to stand for long periods of time, it is also a major safety concern as these areas are not designed for safe standing. Allowing people to choose to stand safely in designated areas with their own ticketed spot, rather than unhappily merging them with those who wish to sit, is arguably the most logical solution.

Ticket Prices

Many supporters express concerns that all-seater stadiums have priced out a number of the traditional fan base. Introducing safe standing areas also brings with it the possibility of lower ticket prices.

What Makes Safe Standing So Different from The Traditional Terrace Pens?

Safety as a Design Priority

The topic of safe standing areas remains a sensitive one, and understandably so given the events of the past; however engineering, technology, design and attitudes have all come a long way since the dark days of the overcrowded terraces and stalls of the 70s and 80s.

During the aftermath of the Hillsborough disaster, all-seater stadiums were the safest option with the available technology of the time. Almost three decades later, stadium design and technology has evolved considerably in terms of safety and comfort, with the introduction of the RailSeat, a safe, modern alternative which has allowed fans to stand once more.

The RailSeat

The RailSeat was developed by Ferco in response to the high demand from football fans for a return to standing sections, it has been approved by both UEFA and FIFA for use in safe standing areas. Its flexible design allows it to be easily converted into a seated area to meet UEFA standards – providing clubs with much needed flexibility.

Barrier technology is core to its design with each seat incorporated into a strong metal frame, providing a robust seat and a high back, which forms a sturdy and continuous handrail to facilitate safe standing – the high strength rail also provides a protective barrier which prevents spectators from falling or pushing those in front of them.

celtic railseat

The design of the RailSeat allows it to vertically fold and be safely locked into place by stadium staff with a specialist key, enabling safe standing or alternatively an all-seater area, depending on the required function.

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A Ticketed Space

Safe standing areas are ticketed areas – each spectator pays for the space of a seat, which would be securely locked away for the duration of the game in the safe standing area.

The RailSeat In Use

Each RailSeat model is not only robust and comfortable but purposely designed for stadium use. The Ferco RailSeat has been used at an array of leading sporting venues worldwide, it comes with a standard five-year guarantee and is virtually maintenance free.

Celtic FC Scotland

Shrewsbury Town FC

Malmö FF Sweden

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