A few weeks ago, I went to see The Wedding Present play at the Roundhouse in Camden. Musically-inclined readers of a certain age may remember them as a popular indie guitar band in the mid-80s, known for their furiously strummed guitars and pithy lyrics about student love affairs. They’re now playing the nostalgia circuit, performing their classic George Best album in full, and during that part of the show, middle-aged men could repeatedly be seen trying to crowdsurf. It was very entertaining.
I’ve been reading a lot about the campaign to introduce ‘safe standing’ at football grounds recently, and I’ve come to the conclusion that a similar impulse must be behind it. After all, compulsory all-seater stadiums were introduced for the top two divisions in the early 90s, so anyone who stood regularly as a teenager at a ground in those divisions must now be pushing 40. Like the crowdsurfers at the Roundhouse, I can only assume that the safe standing campaign is being led by people with a hankering to relive their younger days. I can’t see another reason for it.
As it happens, the editorial in this month’s When Saturday Comes (a magazine which invariably has its heart in the right place) gives two main reasons for introducing safe standing: restoring some atmosphere to sterile all-seater stadiums, and reducing ticket prices.
I’ve heard the argument before that standing up encourages singing – some even maintain that it is physically harder to sing while sitting down – and it’s nonsense. It may make a difference if you’re part of a chorale performing a Bach cantata, but not when belting out the ‘Deeney is a legend’ song. I’ve happily sat and sang for 20 years, as have thousands of others.
As for reducing ticket prices, it’s a noble ambition. But Premier League clubs in particular have had ample opportunity to do so in recent years as Sky have showered them with money, and few have done anything to make matchdays cheaper for fan; it all goes on escalating transfer fees and player wages instead. That may change if safe standing is ever introduced, but I’m not holding my breath.
There is a third argument; that fans stand anyway, particularly in away ends, so we need to ensure they can do so safely. I have some sympathy with this line, but I think football supporters have actually become a lot more sensible in the past 30 years. The bundles and crushes that made life on the old terraces so hazardous simply don’t happen when everyone is standing on a narrow strip of concrete with the back of a chair at their feet. It’s not that dangerous any more.
For what it’s worth, I’m not against standing at football matches. I just don’t see the point of spending money on installing rail seating (which the safe standing brigade are pinning their hopes on) when there are other ways of arranging things. Watford’s Operations Director made this point perfectly at an At Your Place event I attended last season. As he pointed out, the club have an arrangement with the 1881 that they can have a block where everyone can stand throughout the match if they want; those who want to stand can join that group, and everyone else sits down. It doesn’t cost anything, and everyone’s happy. We can’t be the only club where this common-sense approach is taken.
As further proof, he also mentioned standing in the away end, but I’ll come back to that another time...