Safe Standing Mythbuster

Talk about safe standing for long enough and, sooner or later, someone will tell you why they think it shouldn't happen. This will almost inevitably be based on misunderstanding, miscomprehension or even total myth - not all fans are familiar with the arguments for safe standing. Knowledge is power, educate yourself in the arguments and you can win your fellow fans over.

Mythbuster (hit the links below for more detailed answers):

Myth: “Standing is unsafe.” Not true.

The FSF does not propose that the stringent safety standards laid down in the Government’s Green Guide be abolished or weakened. But we do think fans in the Premier League or Championship should also be allowed to stand in safety as those in any other division can - the idea that safety depends upon the quality of football played on the pitch is absurd. Many opponents to safe standing mistakenly cite Hillsborough as a reason not to allow its introduction. However the disaster was not caused by standing; the Taylor Report primarily blamed overcrowding, stadium layout, and poor policing. Safe standing areas exist, perfectly safely, in Germany, the USA, and Canada - countries which treat safety with the same respect it is given in the UK. Back to the top.

Myth: “Statistics show that standing areas are less safe than seated ones.” Not true.

The Football Licensing Authority (FLA) collects statistics which give numbers of injuries for each ground and the type of injury. The injury rates are very low and, although they show a slightly higher rate in grounds which retain standing accommodation, they do not differentiate where the injury occurred (seats, standing area, concourse etc). Nor do they correlate that area with the type of injury (wasp stings, for example, are not related to standing/seating) or take into account other factors such as the age of the stand. The latter point is relevant as many all-seated stands are much newer than the remaining standing areas and a fair comparison with new safe standing areas cannot be made. Although it has previously been claimed that the figures demonstrated that seated areas are safer than standing areas, there is now general agreement that the statistical analysis is not detailed enough to reach that conclusion. Back to the top.

Myth: “There's no appetite from fans for standing areas and it's unfair on those who wish to sit.” Not true.

Every week thousands upon thousands of fans stand in front of their seats for the duration of the game while following the team they love - attempts by the authorities to end this practise have failed. Every survey we've ever seen shows that the majority of fans back the choice to sit or stand.

The FSF’s National Supporters’ Survey (completed by 4,000+ fans) showed that 92% of fans back the choice to stand or sit. This is not just about those who prefer to stand. By giving supporters the choice, everyone benefits. Those who wish to stand can do so, while those who prefer to sit no longer have to worry about having their view blocked. Back to the top.

Myth: “The risk of hooliganism – crowd behaviour is more difficult to manage in standing areas.” Where is the evidence for this?

It’s entirely speculative, anecdotal, and the FSF strongly disputes it. The Green Guide shows that standing can and does provide a safe and controlled environment for fans to stand every week at football matches up and down the country in Leagues One, Two, and beyond. We also believe that the current law actively encourages disorder; match-going fans know that much tension at football stems from the efforts of stewards to force fans to sit down, creating an ‘us against them’ mentality.

Rather than fan these flames why don’t the authorities acknowledge the current legislation is failing and back our campaign to give all supporters the choice to stand or sit? This would benefit all parties as, at present, many fans who prefer to sit find their views blocked by those who prefer to stand.

Furthermore with certain models of safe standing, such as rail seating, it is possible identify a person by their location using CCTV/ticket information in exactly the same way that police can currently. The larger clearways associated with standing areas actually make access easier for police and/or emergency services. Privately many Safety Advisory Groups (the council-formed bodies which polices football’s safety legislation) have told the FSF that the introduction of safe standing areas would actually make their lives much easier.

Standing has long been connected to hooliganism, but without any evidence to link one with the other it is impossible to know whether the very welcome improvements in the behaviour of English fans have come about as a result of better policing, stewarding, improvements in crowd-control technology like CCTV and rising ticket prices rather than the disappearance of standing. Again, we would welcome an evidence-led debate on the issue and that is why we’re calling for a trial of safe standing areas.

Speaking at a Parliamentary event in December 2012, the matchday commander of West Midlands Police, Superintendent Steven Graham, refuted the claim that standing necessarily leads to disorder. While he was keen to make clear that he doesn’t speak for all matchday commanders he boasts more than 20 years' experience of policing football matches and is the operational lead for the policing of football in his region.

He told MPs, journalists and football experts: “If you put a decent person on a terrace, they’re a decent person. If you put someone with criminal intent in a seated area, they’re someone with criminal intent who may misbehave. To say that just because you put someone in a standing area, they will misbehave, is fundamentally wrong.

“The person who threw the coin at Rio Ferdinand threw it from a seated area. The person who jumped on the ground at Hillsborough and assaulted the goalkeeper [Sheffield Wednesday’s Chris Kirkland] did so from a seated area. It wasn’t the fact they were in terraces that made them behave like that. They behaved like that because they’re morons. They behaved like that because they’re criminals.”

He added: “As they say - In God We Trust, everyone else bring data. We have very little experience of what standing looks like in the 21st century, in football grounds in the UK. I’m delighted Villa aren’t proposing to tear up the entire Holte End and make it all standing, what they’re saying is we’ve identified an area of the ground where they can trial it. That’s what we need to do, gather some data so we, as an industry, can make informed decisions and give supporters the best possible experience.” Back to the top.

Myth: “Designs used in Germany would, in the UK, require substantial investment by clubs or even rebuilding of entire stands.” Issues around cost and feasibility should be a matter for individual clubs, not for government. The FSF also believes that safe standing areas can actually pay for themselves and help bring down ticket prices.

Football clubs are businesses and should be allowed to spend money as they see fit. We think there’s a demand from fans (or customers, if you will) for safe standing areas and that should be a matter for individual clubs rather than government legislation. Some clubs might choose to introduce safe standing but there would be no requirement to say every club had to. It would be optional.

Since government last reviewed this in 2001 many brand new stadiums have cropped up around the country which could quite easily (and cheaply) have accommodated areas of rail seats. Up to 1.8 times as many supporters can fit into these areas as traditional seated areas meaning, after an initial outlay, these areas can rapidly pay for themselves via ongoing ticket sales. Read more about the business case for safe standing here.

Legislation should only be in place if the safety risk of standing at football is demonstrably serious enough to warrant legislating against. It is not up to government to decide how football clubs should spend their money, and if there is no evidence that standing is unsafe - and we are yet to see any - then the existing legislation should be scrapped and it should be up to clubs themselves to introduce standing if they wish to. Back to the top.

Myth: “Our stadium isn't suitable for retrofitting rail seats.” Wrong! While retrofitting may present challenges in some stadia, it is not correct for any club official to say that their stadium would not be suitable as the rules on factors such as the minimum permitted rail height and the maximum permitted stand gradient for areas fitted with rail seats have yet to be written. These are the very factors that could be determined by the running of trials to look at which heights and gradients work best. The results can be incorporated into new guidelines for safe standing areas. Back to the top.

Myth: “Clubs who have built new grounds lower down the leagues have chosen not to incorporate safe standing areas.” Misleading and not always true.

Many lower-league clubs became all-seated as a result of receiving funding from the Football Foundation which stipulates all-seated stadiums as a condition of their financial assistance. It is misleading to suggest that clubs have chosen this route because they believe sitting is a better model than standing. Morecambe and Gateshead (new stadium still at design/planning stage) are two examples who have recently elected to forego Football Foundation money to retain standing areas. Many more would like to reintroduce them because of the benefits they bring to social inclusion (through lower ticket prices), sustainability (greater total numbers of fans able to attend) and atmosphere. As businesses clubs want to keep their customers happy and many customers want to be able to stand at games. Back to the top.

Myth: “UEFA won't allow it.” Not true.

UEFA regulations state that European competitions must be played in all-seated stadiums. Rail seats (as pictured top left of this article) can be converted to and from seating, so this is not an obstacle to clubs providing standing accommodation for domestic games and all-seated accommodation for European games. Many German clubs do this. Back to the top.

Myth: “Standing in the Bundesliga contributes to disorder.” Standing was not highlighted by the German FA as a contributory factor to recent disorder.

There are many wonderful features of the German Bundesliga that English fans look at with jealousy; low ticket prices, supporter-owned clubs, high attendances, great atmospheres and, of course, standing areas. However, the league also faces some problems relating to disorder, specifically around the use of pyrotechnics.

The German authorities have recently adopted a 16-point plan to tackle these problems, including better dialogue with fans, tighter admission checks and away fan quotas. Standing was not highlighted as a contributing factor to the problems the Bundesliga face, and in fact the DFB document outlining the points adopted states:

“A fixed and integral part of any positive stadium experience for the spectators at a football match is, of course, experiencing a positive fan culture. This needs to be preserved and protected. This includes the standing areas in the stadia, the choreographed displays on the home and away ends, modest ticket prices, safe, modern stadium infrastructure and altogether fair interaction between all concerned before, during and after the game. In short, in fact, a safe, atmospheric, vibrant football stadium experience created by and enjoyed with all spectators, players and matchday staff.

“In this respect, all concerned are aware that a large part of the positive atmosphere comes from the home and away ends, especially from the standing areas, and that through these that the special atmosphere is created and shaped in our stadia that fascinates all onlookers both inside and outside the grounds and that makes football associations, clubs and fans from other countries envious of what we have.”

No league is perfect and each has its problems. Nevertheless we can’t help but applaud the DFB for the importance they place on a positive fan culture and their refusal to lazily link standing and disorder in the absence of any evidence to support a causal relationship. Back to the top.

  • We hope this helps convince doubters. If you think there are any issues not addressed please email the FSF.

Read more about the FSF's Safe Standing Campaign here.