A few thoughts on this:
I never want to see a return to terracing at football. More than anything else though, I never want to see a fence erected in front of any stand of supporters. Ever. They are the key points for me, and ones I think those in favour of standing at football should be fully supportive of. That’s only my opinion of course, and one I’ll be happy to air at this meeting.
Before Hillsborough and The Taylor Report, the Safety Guidelines that football grounds had to adhere to were worthless and pathetic. Big open terraces, inadequate numbers of turnstiles to cope with fans access and egress from stadiums and very little control over crowd movements. There was never any focus on those areas, mainly as we football fans were thought of us cattle and treated as such. The fact that Sheffield Wednesday’s Safety Certificate for their ground had expired 10 years before Hillsborough highlights how much focus was placed on our safety back then.
It took 96 deaths to change all that. But remember that 56 deaths in Bradford only 4 years before Hillsborough didn’t trigger any changes. Fans died at Bradford as they were trapped in the stand and unable to escape the fire by accessing the pitch or exiting through gates at the back of the stand that were locked and trapped them in. 4 years later 96 fans lost their lives as they were unable to access the pitch to escape the crushing. 56 fans lost their lives and still the authorities didn’t change their approach in how they managed football crowds. Now this bit is key:
56 lives were lost in the seats at Bradford
96 lives were lost on the terrace at Hillsborough
152 lives in total were lost as the result of fencing preventing fans from accessing the pitch and escaping. That for me, is as clear as it comes. One statement that we should all be right behind – and I know certain people within the Hillsborough Groups have the same opinion – NO TO FENCES!
It wasn’t just fences though that resulted in those deaths, as we all know too well, but it is inescapable that without those fences in place, nobody would have died; fans would have been able to access the playing field and lives would have been saved. I don’t see how anybody could ever dispute that.
Now compare all modern stadiums and their layout to that of Hillsborough.
The Leppings Lane had 7 turnstiles to omit over 10,000 fans – and I’m pretty sure that the same turnstiles were also used to omit fans using the side stand as well, so more than 10,000 fans had to enter through those turnstiles. Compare that to The Kop we enter today. The Kop holds 12,500 fans and I’m pretty sure there are 36 turnstiles to service that stand alone. Quite a difference.
On entering The Kop, there are 3 different levels, with clearly signed blocks which fans are allocated tickets for. There is vast space underneath the stands on the concourses, stewards available on every entrance / exit and CCTV in operation all over the ground. The number of people entering via the turnstiles, their rate of entry etc is all recorded and monitored for every game. If there is any sign of more people entering through the turnstiles than accounted for, it’s there in black and white in the control room and turnstiles can be closed down to prevent anybody else entering. It is pretty much impossible for there to be any chance of crushing / overcrowding in a properly managed modern stadium (see Athens for a poorly managed all-seater stadium and what can go wrong).
Now contrast that with Hillsborough.
On entering through one of the 7 turnstiles, you were greeted with a tunnel, forcing everyone into the central pens behind the goal. It was unclear where to go if you wanted to go to the outer pens, there were no stewards directing people, no crowd controls in place and most costly of all, fences at the front of the stand meaning those in those central pens had no means in which to escape.
Did it matter if there were seats or a terrace at the end of that tunnel? Not in my eyes. The key issues were the lack of turnstiles resulting in a crush outside, the lack of crowd control techniques resulting in poor policing decisions being made, the poor infrastructure of the stand itself in coping with large crowds, and the fences at the front of the stands penning fans in. In my opinion, the fact fans were standing had absolutely nothing to do with why 96 fans lost their lives. All the other points I mentioned contributed massively.
Post Hillsborough and The Taylor Report, many changes were made to how the games, grounds etc were regulated. The main one being the implementation of all seater stadiums, and this is the one that everybody focuses on and the main change people associate with the Taylor Report; for me though, the changes that have improved our safety more than any other are not talked about anywhere near as much.
The Green Guide detailing specifications that all grounds must conform to, all stewards having to have NVQ’s etc. Our current stadiums have never been safer, and to me, that is as a result of those changes, not the fact that seats have been installed.
But looking forward:
What we have now are stadiums that are as safe as they have ever been. Within those stadiums, thousands upon thousands of us stand in them for 90 minutes to watch our football week in week out. We do so because we enjoy doing so and because we feel safe in doing so. What I would like to see is the authorities helping us make our grounds even safer again.
The word “terrace” should never be mentioned when we talk about standing at football. It’s in the past and should stay there. What we should be pushing for the is the “Safe Standing” areas with Rail seats / combi seats as seen in most German grounds. They are pretty much identical to what we have now, only we’d have a rail / bar in front of our current seats and we’d be able to stand in that space (as we do now anyway), but being allowed to do so in a safer environment where there can be no crowd surge due to the rails being in place.
There would be no possibility of overcrowding due to the measures discussed before (increased number of turnstiles, better crowd control techniques, CCTV, signage etc), and even if every one of those measures failed (which they wouldn’t), then we have no fences in our stadiums any more and fans would be able to escape onto the pitch.
I can’t think of any logical reason to oppose the introduction of rail seats in our grounds.
That’s the debate we need to be having – who opposes the introduction of rail seats, and why.
Looking forward to having the debate!