STANDING DOES NOT HAVE TO BE DANGEROUS ANY MORE
BAD stewarding. Irresponsible policing. Poor organisation. A prevailing attitude that football fans were pond life. All of these factors contributed to the horrific deaths of 96 people at Hillsborough.
But what really did the damage was perimeter fencing. Without it, nobody would have died that day. As the crush intensified, fans would have spilled onto the pitch, bruised, bloodied, probably battered by police truncheons – but alive.
That’s not to say the anti-standing lobby should be swept aside. There are plenty of legitimate concerns. All-seater stands have reduced the kind of anonymity that once allowed hooliganism to flourish. This in turn has made it easier for those once too intimidated to attend matches – racial minorities, women, kids – to enjoy football.
We are still a long way off the inclusivity in American sports, but the game has a face it can be proud of. That was not always so.
But to blame standing for the tragedy at Hillsborough is like blaming McDonalds for making you obese. It was just one of the myriad factors. And the truth is, almost all of those factors have been eradicated.The murderous fences have gone, never to return. Stewards and police are better trained, with Hillsborough now a blueprint for what to avoid.
Hooligans remain, but with decreased numbers and organisation. And “Safe Standing” rails, set to be trialed at Bristol City’s Ashton Gate, segregate fans to make a forward surge impossible. Emotive though the issue may be, especially to those touched by the Hillsborough disaster, the successful use of safe standing areas in the Bundesliga has proved that there is nothing inherently dangerous about standing up at a football ground.
If standing can be shown to reduce ticket prices and raise gates – and can ensure a zerotolerance policy on antisocial behaviour – it is difficult to oppose.