Safe-Standing – A sensitive subject that surrounds football in the UK at the minute; a divisive and debate stirring topic of conversation, but a topic that should be considered nonetheless.
The guys over at The Anfield Wrap recently conducted a poll on whether or not fans of Liverpool Football Club would like to see an area of safe-standing introduced at Anfield, the results were pretty clear… 83% of almost 8000 people voted in favour – the vast majority of Liverpool fans are open to the idea, but what about that 17% of fans who voted against it?
You only have to go as far as the replies to the poll on twitter to get an idea as to why many of that 17% voted no. First of all, there appears to be a common misconception about what safe-standing actually is, resulting in a fit of outrage at the thought of standing at football grounds. The term ‘safe-standing’ should be scrapped altogether as too many are unwilling to research the proposed idea of what makes the standing safe, therefore for the rest of this article I will only refer to it as ‘rail seating’ (the system used in the Bundesliga & Celtic, to great effect) at least then some of the sceptics may take an interest in learning what it is!
‘Well then go for it, get them in and when more get crushed then we can say at least the atmosphere was better’
This parituclar comment I saw stood out as I think it highlighted the main concern of much of that 17%, I would say understandably, but research on rail seating is all it takes to quash this argument. It is regarded as safe due to a high bar both in front and behind every indivudal in the area, there is no way to fall forward, or for someone to fall on you. It is in absolutely no way a throw back to the 70s/80s. Capacity is monitored just as normal, therefore overcrowding is prevented and there is certainly no swaying like the old videos of the Kop due to the bars infront and behind. The archaic associations of standing at a football ground are deemed irrelevant with the rail-seating system, it is built to be safe and safe is what it is.
Dion Dublin on BBC’s Focus Forum, like so many others, raised the point, ‘its all seated at the moment and everything is going ok’. We as Liverpool fans (and certainly any away fan across the country) know as well as anyone that standing is going to occur anyway. Stewards try as hard as they may but you simply are not going to get 13,000 people on the Kop to sit down on demand; The Dortmund 2nd leg at home resulted in both my shins being obliterated by the back of the seat in front – don’t get me wrong, its part of the parcel, I would take losing both shins again if it meant I could relive Lovren’s header, but the fact of the matter is, it just doesn’t have to happen and I could celebrate with several thousand more people, injury free.
It would appear that FSG will look to rebuild the Anfield Road end at some point, albeit looking like an ever expanding distance in the future, this redevelopment could be the prime time to consider the option of rail seating in a section or sections of Anfield. Having spoken to Jon Darch of the Safe Standing Roadshow, it would seem that the Kop would be suitbale for an all standing area but an increased attendance wouldn’t currently be possible due to a lack of space in the exits and concourses for a quick evacuation, however as the Anfield Road end is redeveloped, it could be built to accommodate for the higher attendance that rail seating can offer. Everton have recently announced plans to build a new stadium on the Bramley Moore Dock site, Bill Kenwright has stated that fans will be consulted over the option of rail-seating, FSG wouldnt go amiss doing the same as Anfield continues to grow.
The potential advantages a standing section at Anfield will bring are fairly clear – higher attendance, more matchday revenue, potentially lower ticket prices for fans, improved safety and so on, but the key pursuasion factor for me is the possiblity of an enhanced atmosphere. Jürgen Klopp himself, almost every other press conference, emphasises the pivotal role the crowd can play in ensuring a Liverpool victory. When asked what the secret to Liverpools success at Anfield is, he replied “The quality of the players, and the atmosphere in the stadium”. Whether or not there are scientific studies suggesting the atmosphere can improve performance I don’t know, but I whole-heartedly agree with him.
I’m not totally bias, I understand there are cons of having rail seating sections. Many of the older fans have been visiting Anfield their whole lives; as standing for 90 minutes becomes more of a struggle, their passion hasn’t faultered and these fans shouldn’t be overlooked. I imagine it would get very frustrating having people stand in your way as you are confined to your seat, but as already stated, if you’re on the Kop, standing is inevitable, rail-seating or not. On the other hand, youngsters in a standing area may struggle to see the pitch should a 7ft gentleman be stood in the row infront, but again this is irrelevant if an area of fans persistently stand anyway.
Needless to say, I am fully aware of the sensitivites surrounding Hillsborough, therefore I have no qualms with anyone who understands the rail seating concept and still share their anxieties, it’s an uneasy subject for some and one that will never (and should not be) avoided when standing at football is reconsidered. However it is useful to note that Lord Justice Taylor wrote that ‘standing accommodation is not intrinsically unsafe’ and last years Hillsborough inquest once and for all deemed that tragic incident as the result of incompetance of those in charge of ensuring safety and not due to fans standing.
With all that in mind, I expect this article to make no difference whatsover and for the debate to rage on for eternity, but at least I had my say!
Written by Sam Halliwell