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Arsenal Fans Call For Safe Standing At English Stadia

The Black Scarf Movement took a survey, and the answers were very enlightening.

Shaun Botterill

As with many others, I have my issues with the Black Scarf Movement folks.  But they've gone and done something that might be worth doing now, according to the Guardian - they've released a survey, which 17,000 people responded to, about the concept of safe standing in modern stadia, with results that weren't surprising in their sentiment, but were very surprising in their numbers.

A brief history:  English stadia used to be primarily standing, with very few seated areas.  In theory, that's a neat idea - get people on their feet, make it easy for them to be with their friends/groups, etc. What that meant in practice, though, was clubs saying "let's cram as many people into a small space as possible, because money".

Two anecdotal data points: the old Wembley Stadium had a seated capacity of 82,000 when it wastorn down in 2003.  Its original capacity was 127,000, and its record attendance was reported to be anywhere from 240,000 to 300,000 for the 1923 FA Cup final.  Highbury's final capacity was 38,419, but its record was 73,295 against Sunderland, in 1935.

A series of incidents - HeyselBradford, and finally and most fatally Hillsborough - moved the government and the game to ban standing areas in stadia, and the era of the all-seater began in the early 1990's as teams began replacing their standing areas with seats.

Today, it is a requirement that all Premier League and Championship stadia be all-seater; this has led some to believe, with some justification, that atmosphere at certain grounds (including Arsenal's) isn't nearly as loud or passionate as it could be.  The economics of soccer have of course played a part in this - the "average fan" who could pay £4 or £5 to go stand in the Clock End in the 1970's would shake his (or her, nowadays) head at the approximate £44 average price of a ticket in the Emirates.

In an attempt to bring back some of that atmosphere, there have been calls to introduce "safe standing" areas in English stadia, like they have most notably in Dortmund.  The difference between "safe standing" and the old terraces is in its design - terraces were simply that, wide concrete steps onto which clubs crammed as many people as they could, often with fences or "pens" (it's impossible to overstate in how much contempt clubs held fans in the 1970s/80s) separating each block of terraces.

Safe standing, though, incorporates low-slung barriers and fold-down seats, and each terrace is actually two steps - one for standing and one for passage (although people could stand on the secondary step as well).  Desire for these standing areas has grown as English teams have seen them in use at Dortmund - which has a standing capacity of 27,000 - and at other European grounds, because it does create an atmosphere that allows for this sort of thing.

And now, Arsenal fans have spoken, and they're overwhelmingly in agreement that safe standing is something worth investigating.  They're also in agreement that the atmosphere at the Emirates isn't that great - only 6% of respondents thought the atmosphere was "good" (admittedly, any BSM survey is going to produce a response fairly skewed towards "IT WAS BETTER IN THE OLD DAYS", but still), and no less a man than Arsene Wenger thinks safe standing is a great idea.

I would vastly prefer the atmosphere at a soccer game to come from the fans, rather than from an NBA-style shoving down one's throat-esque set of commands to the crowd (JUMBOTRON JUMBOTRON, WHAT DO WE DO), so while I'm unfortunately not planning a visit to the Emirates any time soon, you can put me down firmly in favor of this idea.