Safe Standing: SPL, Germans and A Step Forward

Posted on December 21, 2011 by

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It’s one of the biggest reasons why I’d love to be Doctor Who.  He can flick a switch and time travel to whatever time or place he wants, reliving the greatest moments in history and experiencing the future.  I wish I could jump in his blue box with him, slip him a fiver for ‘petrol’ and get him to set his machine for any time before all-seated stadia was the norm.  Experiencing the old terraces, where attendances were regularly smashing the six-figure mark in Old Firm games, would be something spectacular.

Of course the Doctor and his TARDIS travel machine are purely a fictional story, but I can dream of the fantasy.

The Scottish Premier League announced on Monday that their member clubs can now submit applications to them to create safe standing sections within their stadiums, subject to further approval from police and safety officials.

The SPL rule changes also included a change regarding unacceptable conduct relating to songs, banners and chants in a positive or negative way in relation to mentioning organisations listed in the Terrorism Act 2000.  This can be seen in two ways; it is a positive step by the SPL to try and stop an element of Celtic supporters singing pro-IRA songs and an element of Rangers supporters singing pro-UVF and pro-UDA songs.  But by including the “and in opposition to” line in the rules they effectively said it is unacceptable to mention terrorist organisations in a negative way and that you will be punished the same as someone glorifying the deaths of innocent people.

This rule change has more shades of grey in it than Jim Goodwin’s noggin, but there’s nothing much to debate on the other rule amendment.  This is the first step in giving Scottish football a credible status in the global, if not then European, game.  There is much wrong with the game here but this announcement gives a bit of it back to the people who matter; the supporters.

Without us football fans there would be no game.  The clubs rely on us buying tickets, buying pieces of merchandise and purchasing a pie and Bovril in the ground.  The SPL’s chief executive Neil Doncaster said in a statement regarding the rule changes that standing at the football has been the idea that fans have come to him to suggest the most.

It is certainly something that whets the appetite of the majority of supporters.  Every game there is fans standing at games, and often when they refuse to sit down they are ejected from the stadium.  This can’t happen any longer, and it’s why I’m glad the SPL have used some common sense by giving clubs the green light to make their own standing areas.  Sometimes the sheer amount of fans standing means no action is taken, such as the Rangers away support at Celtic Park and vice-versa.

Some doubters have mentioned the Ibrox Disaster of 1971, saying ‘how can you possibly bring standing back after so many people lost their lives?’ and claiming there is no such thing as ‘safe’ standing.  Well first of all, the 66 Rangers fans that lost their lives on that fateful day came to their end on the staircase, not by standing at the game and there standing at Ibrox for years after the disaster.  And secondly, try telling the Germans there is no such thing as ‘safe’ standing.

The Bundesliga is the world’s best-attended football league with an average of more than 42,000 fans per game.  There are various factors attributed to this accolade, perhaps the biggest being the population of Germany being around 80 million.  The league is one of the most competitive in the world but it is not just simply the product on the park that has managed to revitalise the national team, now considered to be Spain’s biggest challenger at Euro 2012.  Cheap ticket prices and safe standing areas are a huge pull in bringing supporters to the grounds in the country and a prerequisite for many.

Fans of Borussia Dortmund, the current German champions, can buy tickets for the standing area in the ‘Subtribune’ for as little as €14.  This stand is the biggest in Europe, and if you haven’t seen the beauty of it on a matchday then take time to search YouTube to see videos of it.  This stand has standing space for a staggering 27,000 fans.  It is a the best example of how safe standing can not only work, but transform the stadium into a cauldron of noise and intimidate the opposition so much more than seating could ever do.  The stand is also known as the Yellow Wall for a reason.  The Germans see standing as an integral part of their fan culture.

Still, the doubters have something to cry about. ‘UEFA would never allow it for their competitions, so there is no point’.  Let me introduce you to the rail seat, if you haven’t seen this before.  This is the type used in Germany and to such high success.  For domestic matches, the rail seat is pinned to its back to allow the fans to stand and have the safety barriers in front of them.  For UEFA and FIFA games however, the seats are unlocked for the fans to sit on to abide by the governing bodies rules.  Genius.

The current cost of a rail seat is £84 with the normal plastic seat costing £30, but many in Germany have said the rail seats do not break as easily and are a lot more durable than the plastic seats, ensuring a worthwhile investment.

To mould it into Scottish football, let’s look at my team Rangers, the club could use the Copland Front for the standing area.  This is the lower tier of the Copland Road Stand, situated behind the goals, and houses around 4,000 fans at present.  The club would rip the entire load of seats away and install the new rail seats at a total cost (for the installation of rail seats, excluding addition of barriers) of £336,000.  Seems a bit expensive but when you evaluate how much more dosh the club would make (if they made the area cheap like in Germany) from the fans wanting to stand in the area and other fans wanting to sit anywhere else to experience the improved atmosphere, again it seems a totally worthwhile investment.

The extra financial gains that can be made from having these areas are again expressed over in Germany.  The vice-president of Borussia Monchengladbach and ex-Scotland coach Rainer Bonhof has seen the benefits of the standing idea for his own eyes, seeing the huge home crowds that Gladbach get and how successful they have become this season.

He told the Herald:  “Now in Germany, we have probably the best atmosphere of any league in the world. It is not just because it is best attended. The standing areas have made a contribution to the fan experience. All the clubs are obliged by the DFB [German Football Federation] to have standing sections. We then have to change it if we host international games.

“We have standing room for 16,000 on the south terrace and it is full long before every other part of the ground. We have over 40,000 members and we are sold out for almost every game and people travel to see us from all parts of Germany.”

This from a team that was in the 2.Bundesliga in 2007-2008 and narrowly avoided relegation by winning the play-off last season, now sitting fourth in the league.  It is an example to teams like Motherwell, who have a supporters group who want to and sometimes do stand, to explore this idea and introduce the standing areas at Fir Park to bring back atmosphere and fans to the ground.

The SPL has given clubs the green light to pursue this idea but whether or not clubs will want to do it is an another story.  In the recent past St Mirren have come out in opposition to the proposal of standing, and some clubs may not see the positives in ripping out seats they recently shelled out for to accommodate supporters standing.

Let’s hope they see common sense however and realise this is the first step to bringing Scottish football back where it belongs.

 You can follow Alan on Twitter @aldo1872


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Posted in: Europe