Bring back terracing

5 Apr

THE sports minister, Hugh Robertson, recently said the government will consider the possibility of reintroducing terraces in the top two tiers of the football league, 21 years after Lord Justice Taylor recommended them outlawed. I’m sure you will agree this is a very welcome development. Fans across the county have been calling out for standing areas to be reintroduced for years. It creates a better atmosphere and standing areas are typically cheaper making stadiums more socially inclusive. You only have to watch a game at the Emirates, the pinnacle of Premiership luxury, to realise that the hushed silence of their rich fans is a result of the overpriced tickets needed to offset the cost of their cushioned chairs and fairy-tale players. This isn’t what football is about where I grew up.
As Southend United supporters we have bitter memories of the Taylor report. In the early 90’s we were establishing ourselves as a second division club (now Championship). To come in line with the Taylor report Southend had to convert Roots Hall to an all-seater stadium by 1994. We found it difficult to invest in players and the stadium at the same time, our squad suffered as a result and we lost momentum. It wasn’t long before we were relegated. We wouldn’t reach those heights again until the great Tilson era and I’m sure I wasn’t the only fan who got a little emotional at finally giving Tilson the farewell he deserved at Lincoln recently. It is unsporting to directly blame the Taylor report for Southend’s downfall but it is fair to say it was a contributing factor.
We all know how tough winning promotion into the top tiers of the football league is, and know too well that staying there is even harder. It takes some clever investment in the squad, support from the chairman, some decent loan signings, a committed squad, a manager that can get the most out of his players and on top of all of that a bit of luck. Unfortunately we could only manage a few of those in our Championship season; you can take your picks which ones. When I think not that long ago we were happily taking 3 points off Blackpool it really highlights what a fantastic job Ian Holloway has done at that club.
As it stands Scunthorpe is the only club in the top two tiers of English football to still have terracing. The rules are relaxed slightly for clubs that win promotion and still have terracing. But by the time Scunthorpe reach their third consecutive season in the Championship the terraces have to go. This is a ridiculous state of affairs; a club in 23rd place, struggling to avoid relegation with an average attendance of just over 5000 (about half that of the second lowest attendance in the Championship), not only have to try and invest in the squad but, should they succeed in staying in the league, also have to invest in converting their terrace to seating to satisfy a report written 21 years ago.
It is no surprise that the Premier League are apposed to terracing. I suspect the main reason being money, you can’t really charge as much for standing, but they aren’t going to admit that. Premier League chief spokesman Dan Johnson said: “Our view is that the benefits of all-seater stadia far outweigh the return of standing areas. They have led to more women and more children attending the games and no matter how safe standing can be made, seating is always safer. We will not be encouraging the Government to change the law.”
So the Premier League’s argument is essentially ‘won’t somebody please think of the children’ and no matter how safe it is standing-up it isn’t going to be as safe as sitting down. You can see their point, people might trip over or their legs might get tired or something. It’s a wonder humans have been standing on two legs for 200,000 years without collapsing in a fit of panic from all the danger this upright position clearly presents. Thank God the Premier League are there to make sure when we are in their stadiums of false dreams we can at least watch Arsenal fail to break down Stoke in the comfort of a cushioned seat lest we fall over from all the excitement.
Opponents of standing areas will often cite the Hillsborough disaster as an example for why standing areas aren’t safe. This is a lie; the Taylor report (pdf link) primary blamed overcrowding for the Hillsborough disaster and also pointed to crowd misbehavior (not Hillsborough), bad policing and poor stadium design as contributing factors in similar disasters. It is not standing areas that are dangerous, it is poorly controlled stadiums that are.
There is a reasonable debate to be had about terracing. How you manage and police standing areas, what the demand is and the technicalities of building a modern terrace. Keeping those terraces safe is obviously important but the notion that terraces are fundamentally unsafe should be sent to the scrapheap where it belongs. We should look to the Bundesliga where case studies could be made of how terracing can work. If you think that somehow British crowds are culturally different to our German neighbours then there are plenty of concerts happening in stadiums throughout the UK where people are standing, jumping, cheering, singing and dancing in the very stadiums standing is banned during the football matches they are purposely built for. During a football game you’re going to see that kind of out of control behavior only a few times every 90 minutes if you’re either very lucky, fortunate enough to support someone good or if you’re playing Hereford.
I don’t have a problem with seating, this isn’t about converting all-seater stadiums into all standing stadiums. It is a matter of choice. The Football Supporters’ Federation (FSF) believes that football supporters should have the choice to watch football from a safe standing area, if they so wish, and I support them. If you agree, get over to their website and sign the FSF’s petition.

Martin Cass


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