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  • Writer's pictureRichard Tester

Sitting or Standing | The Future of the Terraces

For decades the terraces were areas of the stadium where the life and soul of matchday atmosphere. Huge swathes of fans would congregate on the dilapidated but charming stands, creating a buzz that filled the air and gave stadium goes an experience they'll never forget.

My fondest memories of the terraces were on Barnet's old stadium at Underhill, tightly compact on the halfway line behind freshly orange-painted barriers. As the goals flowed in during that Conference winning season of 04-05, my teenage frame was routinely crushed as pandemonium occurred. My voice would be sore come full-time, having spent over 90 minutes singing either "We're on our way" or taunting the opposition.

With the banter, energy, and noise, I found a place of belonging on that terrace and quite frankly since our move to The Hive in 2013, I've not felt it since. I yearn for some kind of like for like replacement but the depressing truth is that it's unlikely to happen to anytime soon. Football is ever changing and for the most part, my experience is consigned to history.

The East Terrace at Underhill in all it's glory. There's also an 80% chance that guy in white at the back is me.

Now it's all too easy to look back at our younger more naive football days with rose-tinted spectacles. Human psychology shows we're more likely to omit the negatives when remembering the past and the good stuff will stick easier. I have to think back hard to remember the pigeon faeces, poles blocking your view and the clouds of smoke that consumed us on that terrace. There's also the deeper possibility that I just miss my teenage years and want to turn back the clock to simpler times.

Barnet's new ground 'The Hive'. Looks smart but give me the edginess of the East Terrace of Underhill any day.

Putting nostalgia aside (and there would be more senior fans with decades more terrace experience over me), it's understandable why changes needed to be made in stadiums across the country and abroad. Numerous tragic events, such as Heysal in 1985 and Hillsborough in 1989 shocked the football world to it's core. Stadiums were crumbling, unsafe, with poor policing. Health and safety officers of today would have a fit were they to step back in time and witness it all in person. Fans weren't so innocent either, violence was common (and growing) and some almost militant-like groups had total control of the terraces.

It was evident that sweeping changes were needed and that came in the form of the Taylor Report in 1992. Aside from its findings on the tragic events at Hillsborough (incompetent policing was blamed), It recommended that all major stadiums convert to an all-seater model, and that all ticketed spectators should have individual seats.

This had a huge impact on the stadiums we have today. Iconic terracing such as that of Man Utd's Stretford End and Arsenal's North Bank were demolished in 1992 and rebuilt. Liverpool's famous Kop was also consigned to the same fate two years later and many grounds were simply scrapped to the history books such as Sunderland's Roker Park. It would have been practically impossible for the new regulations to be met and as a result, the club moved a few miles away to the new Stadium of Light.

Some clubs like Chelsea stayed put but made significant alterations. The blues's famous shed end was destroyed for an all-seater stand and a hotel (although the original back walls of the shed remain on the rim of the ground to this day).

Chelsea's old standing terraces and athletics track made way for modernised stands and seating in the early 90s(Chelsea v Bournemouth, 2018).

This transition had a profound impact on matchday atmosphere up and down the land. Ask any self-respecting football fan whether it's possible to recreate the same buzz and noise when sitting down and they'll tell you the same thing, you can't. You simply can't replicate the same energy as before. It's also not helped when an overzealous steward is in the way telling you all sit down after a goal, free kick, corner or anything of value happens on pitch.

The experience feels somewhat sanitised and plastic. Like a visit to the theatre rather than a football game. It doesn't sit right (if you'll pardon the pun) to be firmly rooted to a rather uncomfortable seat for 90 minutes. It doesn't feel natural.

On the flip side, seating brings safety. Incidents at games have severely decreased and families can come to games in a way they couldn't before, passing down the passion for the game from generation to generation.

Not quite the Goldstone ground but it's safe and modern (Brighton vs Bournemouth, 2019).

The tide however is turning somewhat, the safe standing movement has taken off thanks to organisations like The Football Supporters' Federation and caught the attention of the key stakeholders in football. Modern technology, improved police practices and stadium safety have combine to find the right balance in safe standing and you don't have to look far at our European neighbours in Germany to see how it's been done right.

Looking at Dortmund's Westfalenstadion, for example, safe standing is in place to allow 25,000 fans to fill the south stand on a weekly basis to create their famous ‘Yellow Wall’. Each fan still has their own specific seat, which is able to flipped into a locked position and there is a rail in front which meets the waist. Due to the current requirements of UEFA, the seats are flipped back down and locked in for Champions League games as they have to be all-seater affairs.

In recent times the Bundesliga has been viewed as the shining light of how modern football should be done. More fan orientated with a mixture of seats and terracing (and not to mention cheap tickets pricing and alcohol in the ground). Their matchday experiences are well-known as hotbeds for passion and energy making the English equivalent look pale in comparison.

More closer to home, Celtic have been trailing safe standing since 2016 with over 2,900 seats to critical acclaim and even Spurs's new ground has come already equipped with safe standing in place should the legislation change.

Facing Spurs's new North Stand, ready-made for safe standing

Safe standing still has its critics however, with groups such as the Hillsborough Family Support Group against a return to standing in top flight English football. They've played a key part in influencing the narrative over the past two decades.

The irony for those against safe standing is that it's literally a safer alternative to the current situation. Many Fans already defy the stewards and police and stand, especially in the more noisy ends of grounds. This is more dangerous as there isn't a barrier to protect fans should they fall or be pushed around (we all know what it's like when you score a last minute winner away, total chaos).

Safe standing is the perfect balance for the needs and requirements of modern football. You can continue to have a majority of the ground safe in their seats, with families and corporate able to enjoy the action on the pitch whilst those that want to create an atmosphere are housed in an area that encourages it.

With successful trails in Scotland and the Bundesliga showing how it can be done at the top level, it feels like it's only a matter of time before the floodgates open up and allow for safe standing trails in the top levels of English football.

Written by Richard Tester

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Independent article on safe-standing

BBC debate with representatives of The Hillsborough Family Support Group

Liverpool fan experience in Celtic's safe standing section


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