To Stand or Not to Stand?

Much like Hamlet’s famous soliloquy, the question over the introduction of standing terraces is an indicator of the much larger existential crisis relating to the role of the fan in modern football. In England the rise of the ‘prawn sandwich’ fan is unquestionable, modern stadia and rising ticket prices have caused a gentrification of the beautiful game. This has led to many of the more traditionally working class fans to feel isolated, ignored and disillusioned.

Many have enviously looked over the channel to mainland Europe (a somewhat ironic statement in light of recent political events). Specifically to Germany where ticket prices are phenomenally low and the vast majority of grounds have a substantial section of the ground allowing the more energetic, passionate and loud fans to stand. This leaves English fans and the FA with a very difficult question of can we introduce this rail seating system into the English game.

First it is worth looking at the system itself and what it could bring to the ‘Official Stoke City Sport Stadium and Large Events Hub brought to you by Bet365’. The system incorporates a fold down chair attached to a tall barrier behind it. The structure stands above two steps, this means that when down the chairs will occupy one step allowing the spectators legs to rest on the lower one. When in the vertical standing position the steps form two rows of terraces allowing spectators to stand on each. In Germany the seats are left down for European matches to meet UEFA requirements, and are folded up and locked in place for domestic games.

So what affect could this have on seating in the stadium and supporter numbers itself? Well the guideline for standing in the lower leagues indicates that 18 standing fans should be allowed for 10 seated fans, meaning in the railing seating system 1 seat would equate to 1.8 standing fans. After some discussion with the other bloggers it was decided that the Boothen End is the only place that can be an option for safe standing. The Boothen currently houses 6,006 seats, and assuming that half of these seats were converted to the rail seating system we would be able to house 2,402 extra fans when the seats were folded up. This would take match day capacity up to 30,304 (on the current capacity of 27,902) and it is worth bearing in mind this is our last season at that capacity. The developments in the screen corner will further increase 1,800, meaning that safe standing could lead to the Bet365 stadium having a 32,104 capacity, leaving the Brit 365 on a similar capacity to Leicester’s King Power.

The move could also make financial sense for the club and the fans. Ticket prices will decrease by around a half, whilst the spending within the ground should increase. It is undoubted that the introduction of safe standing would provide a rejuvenation of the atmosphere in the ground. Recent home matches have been completely lacking in any kind of crowd involvement (short of booing at the players) and the standing area could be the spark to set alight the Bear Pit once more (excuse the pun, it was entirely intentional, I can’t help it).

It would be impossible to discuss this matter without thinking of the several stadium disasters throughout the 80’s and 90’s. But with the Hillsborough inquiries’ declaration that a combination of poor policing and inadequate facilities were responsible for the death of 96 Liverpool fans, it is clear that fans were not responsible for this disaster. Safe standing is exactly what it says, safe, the rails allow for only two rows of people to be applying pressure, and with no pens there is plenty of room to allow fans to move away from the area. Whilst currently areas of stadiums have supporters standing behind seats which can lead to falls and injury, something very unlikely in the rail system.

At a time where it seems the traditional working class football fan is being priced out of football, it seems appropriate that we should remind the game who it is for. Without fans football is nothing, is a powerful slogan that in the age of Premier League TV money seems to have been forgotten. But even the league will be more marketable if we can clearly show strong fan bases creating amazing atmospheres in an area designated for them. Eyes will be paying keen attention to Celtic, who are the first major British side to install the rail seating system, placing the first of 3,000 rail seats last month. If the experiment in Scotland goes well, then it will be a green light to the Premier League to allow willing clubs to install the system.

So Stokies let us know your thoughts! Do you prefer a seat, and honestly couldn’t care less about the matter? Are you willing to organise and demand that we be given a standing area?

Written by Tom Thrower

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