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Time English football embrace this stadium model

Safe Standing

When Arsenal play host to Tottenham Hotspur in the North London derby next weekend, fans of both home and away sides, will be forced to part with a somewhat astonishing £62 for the cheapest adult seat at the Emirates.

It seems to many like a grossly inflated amount of money to pay to attend a game of football, but the reality is to many, that it simply is what it is. Such is the absurdity and to some extent, immorality, that surrounds the sheer amount of money involved within the Premier League, some weary fans seem almost desensitized to it.

And judging by the near sell-out that was Arsenal’s last Category A game at the Emirates against Chelsea in September, that certainly seems to be the case.

But some fans behold a vision that hideously high-ticket prices won’t stay at this altitude forever. That the rapidly disproportionate price for a seat in stadiums that many believe, are also rapidly decreasing in atmosphere, may only be a temporarily lull.

When Bundesliga side Borussia Dortmund play their next home game against SpVgg Greuther Furth on the 17th, some fans will have shed €187 (£148) for the expense. But that expense doesn’t just cover one Bundesliga home game – it covers all of them.

Indeed, for the near on cost of two-and-a-half tickets to see Arsenal v Tottenham this month, fans could treat themselves to a season ticket at the Westfalenstadion, to go and watch Borussia Dortmund ply their trade. But besides from being able to drink beer in the terraces, soak up an atmosphere catalysed by the Bundesliga’s mandatory 10% allocation for away supporters and enjoy a free train ride thrown in with your ticket, there is something that seems to supersede all of the above.

You can stand up.

Some English fans are simply so sick of having the perceived perfection of the German footballing model shoved down their throats, it’s becoming something of a touchy subjects in some areas. But why wouldn’t it be? The notion of paying so, so much less for what many believe to be a far, far better product, leaves you with very little to argue with.

The safe standing areas at German grounds do of course; offer a double whammy of atmosphere boosting kudos. More than just allowing fans to take to their feet to get behind their team, the nature of increased attendance, allows more people to do so. In theory, the increased capacity that standing brings, allows more people to attend games, but most importantly, at a cheaper rate. The average ticket price to attend a Dortmund game in 2010, was £13.

And when that’s compared with the irrepressible growth that is Premier League ticket prices, it’s easy to see why what was once quiet nods of approval towards the German way of thinking, has slowly morphed into vocal clamours for change.

Traditional standing terraces in this country were of course outlawed by the Lord Taylor report in the wake of the Hillsborough disaster. Stadia’s within the top flight have been all-seater since 1994 and for some, the terraces of yesteryear remain synonymous with events that fateful day in 1989.

And for those looking to catalyze change within grounds on these shores, reaction has remained a somewhat mixed bag.

The Football Supporters’ Federation has been a long time proponent for the introduction of safe standing into English football, and together with Aston Villa and Birmingham MP Roger Godsiff, they’re lobbying for the introduction of a small, trial standing area to be introduced at Villa Park.

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But despite offering what appeared to be a sensible and carefully thought-out idea, the Premier League greeted the plans with gloomy defiance. A spokesman told the Daily Mail last month that:

“Since the introduction of all-seater stadia the supporter experience has improved significantly and we have seen more diverse crowds attending Premier League matches including more women and children.

“We will not be encouraging the Government to change the law.”

The Premier League’s response followed that from the Hillsborough Family Support Group’s statement last year, that they’re “totally against any form of standing whatsoever,” and that “football clubs should remain all-seaters.”

While the stance of the Premier League has gravitas and the opinions of the HFSG must be sensitively respected, there does seem to be, rightly or wrongly, an intrinsic reluctance to look at the realities of safe standing.

No one supporting the case for safe standing is demanding some  sort of blanket introduction into all of our football grounds. Of course, standing up isn’t going to appeal to all sections of today’s fan base and the Premier League are right in claiming that the changes the Taylor Report made, has attracted new groups of people to matches. But why not let those who stand, want to stand? They don’t have to replace seating. Surely allocating a section to those that want to stand (in which many already do) is the best fit for everyone?

The FSF National Survey of 2012 suggested out of 4000 surveyed, nine out of ten supporters back the choice to sit or stand. At dozens of grounds up and down the country, there are already de facto standing sections, in which the more vocally hardcore shun their seats. The demand is there.

Of course, the financial arguments for safe standing aren’t anywhere near as cut and dried as what we may necessarily think. There are no guarantees that the low prices a team like Dortmund are happy to charge for a place on their famous Südtribüne terrace would be commonplace in England.

To use the Emirates stadium as an example, Arsenal will in all likeliness, sell out their home game against Spurs, with the aforementioned £62 a ticket minimum, bringing in a substantial windfall. Given the unprecedented demand a standing area would bring and the fact they have 40,000 fans on the season ticket waiting list already, why would they charge £15 a ticket to stand? If anything, they could change a premium if they wanted.

But that’s an issue for clubs to decide on, not the league. And the biggest urban myth that runs against safe standing is that of safety. Terrible policing, perimeter fencing and inadequate ground design caused the Hillsborough disaster, not fans simply standing up. Safe standing is not the same as terracing. Safety, technology and the understanding towards standing at sporting events, is stratospherically superior in 2012 to what it was in 1989.

Football has changed almost immeasurably in the last 23 years, and the advances in our stadia are a lasting testament to that. But the standing areas in practise in country’s such as Germany, Canada and the United States hardly represent dangerous, ill-thought, demonic structures aimed at making a quick buck. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.

There is two sides to every argument. But it’s time football in this country started speaking up and recognising the merits of safe standing. We need to think with our heads on this one – not with our hearts.

Where do you sit on safe standing? Join me on Twitter: follow @samuel_antrobus and tell me what you think. 

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Article title: Time English football embrace this stadium model

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