Football stadium seating was introduced in light of the Hillsborough tragedy, which saw 96 Liverpool fans lose their lives. After a lengthy inquest into the tragedy, findings from a report published by Lord Justice Taylor meant standing in football grounds across the country was abolished in 1994. Lord Taylor’s report stated that stadium standing was not ‘intrinsically unsafe’, these, along with other findings, prompted the Government to act, ultimately deciding that no standing was to be allowed, at all.
Twenty six years on from the landmark decision to abolish stadium standing, Manchester United have announced that they’re set to trial safe standing for around 1,500 fans. United plan to install barrier seating in a small section of the north east corner of Old Trafford.
The club have confirmed that the positioning of safe standing fans will not impact the view of the surrounding ticket holders.
When asked about the decision, Manchester United’s managing director, Richard Arnold said: “We believe that the introduction of barrier seats will enhance spectator safety in areas of the stadium where we have seen examples of persistent standing.”
In light of this announcement came a great sense of eagerness to delve into the history of standing on the most famous terraces in world football. Old Trafford.
I am unfortunately, too young to have experienced stadium standing in England first hand. I was, however, lucky enough to catch up with a two decade long Old Trafford regular.
Anthony Talbot, 44, from Manchester spoke in depth with me about his past experiences and memories from a time when going to a football match looked and felt very different. Anthony, or Ant as his mates like to call him, has been frequenting the terraces of Old Trafford for nearly 20 years.
Ant has seen it all, from Sir Alex Ferguson’s introduction, through the golden era with the Class of 92’, all the way to the present day. He has seen success in the form of titles and treble winning seasons, he has lived through triumph, as well as heartache. Ant has witnessed breathtaking moments, such as the famous title clinching Federico Macheda goal vs Aston Villa in 2009 and Wayne Rooney’s once in a lifetime bicycle kick vs Manchester City in 2011.
When I asked Ant what one of his earliest and fondest memory is from a standing era, he pondered the question for a moment, almost like there were too many to condense into a single answer. After a few moments, a reminiscent smirk appeared on his face as told Stretty News: “One of my most cherished memories from that time was being lucky enough to have been there in the 1994/95 season. We had City, at home obviously, we battered them 5-0. Andrei Kanchelkis got a hat-trick, the scenes were absolutely amazing.”
It was clear from Ant’s enthusiastic tone just how clearly he remembers those ninety minutes. He went on to explain, “the atmospheric electricity the fans created that day was undoubtedly helped by the fact we were able to be on our feet throughout the entire game. Start to finish.”
It was great listening to Ant’s first hand account, allowing him the opportunity to relive past memories from a time when football was yet to establish itself as the global juggernaut we all know it as today.
I went on to ask Ant what his thoughts were on the announcement of the trial. He said: “I think it will be a success. I believe sections of rails, opposed to seats, would prevent people falling down the rows, which is what often happens now.”
Ant makes a valid point, amidst the jubilation that is a last minute winning goal, or a victory against a rival club, fans across all sections of the ground are of course enthralled with emotion. Stadiums, in their current state do not allow for much physical movement, fans are restricted to a small area with very little forward motion allowance. There is no prevention in front of fans to stop them falling forwards into the row of people ahead of them. A thin square like bar, hollow in shape would undoubtedly be a welcomed adjustment.
With all of the above being considered, I asked Ant if he’d have any safety concerns, should stadium standing be reintroduced on a permanent basis. He admitted that he would perhaps have one concern, policing and securing the public. He said: “It’s tough to say what safety measures will need to be in place until it actually happens, but I do believe added security will be needed, just to ensure all standing fans are not misbehaving and causing problems for others.”
Despite the ongoing disruption the COVID-19 pandemic is causing, Manchester United have maintained that they’re set to trial safe standing as early as the 2020/21 season.
Do you think safe standing will help recreate historic atmospheres, like Ant and so many other fans had become accustomed to 20 years ago?
Will the reintroduction of standing be a welcomed addition to football grounds or do the uncertain safety concerns outweigh the positives?