Yesterday was a landmark day for British football after Bristol City were the first team to incorporate a section of ‘rail seating’ at Ashton Gate. It has to be noted that this new idea for ‘safe standing’ has yet been approved for use at football matches because regulations prohibit this. ‘Rail seating’ is of popular use in stadiums in Germany, including that of Werder Bremen and Borussia Dortmund, the latter’s supporters who have consistently received huge amounts of praise from media alike for the atmosphere their standing areas have generated.
But is the use of ‘rail seats’ completely safe? Are we allowed to be safe in the knowledge that a disaster such as that fateful day at Hillsborough won’t happen again? Let’s first look at the positive sides of ‘rail seating’, before going on to analyse whether there are dangers with this method of ‘safe standing’.
- Without question, the main difference between a support standing and sitting is the atmosphere. With rail seats allowing people to stand, the noise generated in British football stadiums will be huge compared to what it is now.
- Firstly, it is a common for polls asking fans whether they prefer to stand or sit down to come out with the results that football supporters prefer to stand up during games in order to create a better atmosphere. An example for this is a poll run by the Footballers Supporters Federation showed that 91.1% of fans preferred to stand rather than sit. All of this together would surely mean that attendances can only rise if rail seats are implemented.
- It is correct that families now attend football games more than what they used to in the 70’s and 80’s where hooliganism was a big problem for British football. This of course is a good thing that women and young children can enjoy matchdays without the worry of hooliganism. I can safely say that I have experienced only two bouts of hooliganism at a game, I’ve attended games at West Brom for over 10 years now. With sections of rail seating fans will have the choice to be in a seating area, to which I imagine would be then a designated area for families or to be in a standing area housing a more vocal support.
- Safety. The main difference between rail seats and terraces are that rail seats use metal barriers in front of each seat to prevent a ‘crush’ of supporters. This ‘crush’ was one of the main reasons for the Hillsborough disaster, some parts of terraces were generally overcrowded mainly due to the fact that supporters were not specified a place to go compared to now where you get a ticket and sit where you are meant to. These crushes are hugely unlikely because each seat will be reserved for one supporter, therefore should avoid the overcrowding of particular areas.
- From my own experience, standing does create a more hostile atmosphere than if everyone in the stadium sits down. Not so much violence, but songs are louder, causing opposing fans to be even more passionate about their team. It can sometimes create a somewhat unpleasant atmosphere for younger children. I feel that the idea of SECTIONS of rail seats is imperative for the use of them to be successful, a stadium full of people standing including families with younger children would be over the top and would not support the idea of diversity in football.
- Dion Dublin raised the interesting question: “Why change something that already works”? This in some way is true, it shows from my own personal experiences along with friends and family that all-seater stadiums are a much safer option, why change it to something that is relatively unknown in Britain? It takes one disaster for a rethink, if something happened in the first few years of rail seats, it’s likely that questions will be asked about the safety of them compared to all-seaters.
- This one is something I feel strongly about, it concerns people who stand on the aisles. When my team (West Brom) scored their 2nd goal at Villa Park a couple of weeks ago I was pushed onto the aisle, and completely flew down to the bottom of the stand due to around 10-20 people who ran down behind me. There could easily have been a crush, I and a few others had to be helped back up to their feet by stewards. I’ve seen this occur a few times at The Hawthorns, notably Manchester United’s supporters in the famous 5-5 draw in Sir Alex Ferguson’s final game in charge. I’m questioning whether rail seats will be able to prevent supporters standing on aisles, because if they are implemented into football stadiums in the UK then police and stewards alike will in my opinion have to make sure that fans are standing where they are meant to stand as opposed to being on the aisles.