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What is safe standing? An FAQ on rail seating and safe standing in English football

What is safe standing?

Celtic FC v FC Barcelona - UEFA Champions League Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

All week on 7500 to Holte we’ll be talking about safe standing. Why? Because plenty of people are demanding the Government of the United Kingdom to allow it to be put in place in UK footballing stadia via a petition. Laws and regulations currently require these stadia to be all-seater, however, recent case studies are fostering hope and belief that safe standing can be introduced to football grounds around England. The first step? It’s here in the petition. Get it to 100,000 signatures, and you get it into the House of Commons. Us? We’re here to educate, to entertain and hopefully change a few minds.

It’s pointless talking about the subject of safe standing to you if you don’t know what safe standing is, or worse - you think that you know what safe standing is, but have the wrong idea of it. I’m not going to change your mind if you come into this article with pre-conceived notions of the concept.

Still, no matter the intention, it’s very easy to get the idea of safe standing mixed up with other ideas. Here’s a basic Q&A to help get to the bottom of what 86,164 people (and counting) are currently asking the UK Government for.

What is safe standing?

Safe standing, in the bluntest manner of explaining, is a phrase best suited to housing the idea that football clubs, in the United Kingdom, can provide a regulated standing area for fans who want to stand at a football game.

Why can’t they stand? Is standing at the football against the law?

Standing at football matches isn’t against any particular rule, but a combination of rules and regulations that can technically be enforced by law. Simply put, you can stand at a football match, but you’re running the risk of being chucked out of the ground. If you fight that on-site ruling, made by stewards, you run the small, small chance of being arrested. Either way, I think we can all safely say we’d rather not have that small, small chance of being done for disorderly conduct if we can help it.

The rules of the Football League are pretty open-ended. Basically, you can’t stand at all while a match is on, but you can stand if you’re leaving, going to the concourse, or if you’re excited and standing because a goal was scored, or the play on the pitch is good. All of this is rather great and open to interpretation, which means that if you’re standing, you might get chucked out.

People still stand at games though?

Yes. Standing is natural, there are unofficial standing sections in most stadiums that have been defined by fans. Specific rows and blocks within the Holte End and the lower North Stand in particular stand out. Usually, every single away supporter is standing as well, so by default, you’ve practically got a few thousand standing at every game, unsafe, unregulated and unofficial.

Unsafe? Piss off James! FAKE NEWS! W**KER!

No, seriously. Standing at games in it’s current form is 100% unsafe. There are barriers, no blockades, nothing to stop you tumbling down a few rows at worst, or cutting your shins into a delta of bloody little rivers at best. If we are all agreeing that all-seater stadia were brought in for the best intentions (IE; to make everyone sit at games and thus be protected because they are sitting down), then we must be able to agree that if people are standing in seated areas, then a danger is present, a danger we can’t really regulate, or stop unless we line each row with stewards and turn each match into an authoritarian display, where you must monitor your body movements less you be ejected.

In fact, below the top-two divisions of English football, you can stand. 2 Clubs currently in the second division, the Championship, actually have terraces due to special allowances made by the Football League. I’ll talk about terraces later, but if it’s working for 2 clubs, it can surely work for more?

So? What’s the petition about then if people, technically, can stand?

Really, it’s about choice. About freedom. It’s about allowing clubs the freedom to install facilities that will allow fans to stand, safely and comfortably. That’s all. Then it’s on fans of teams to appeal to their clubs to install the relevant facilities.

What’s your answer then smart arse?

In a word, rail-seating. It’s a method of stadium seating that caters for safe standing perfectly. Old-fashioned terraces were a swaying sea of people, a monumental horde that was practically a law-unto-itself. Dangerous in theory, but deadly when accessorised with piss-poor policing, bad stewarding and zoo-like segregation. Terraces, for the most part, were safe until authoritarian rulings crept in. Fans became caged in and their escape became a new battlefield. Terraces stood, untested, for over a hundred years.

Rail-seating isn’t a terrace, though - so the connotations that we have with terraces shouldn’t exist nor apply. In effect, a rail seat is a seat, but slimly built, with spacing for a standing supporter. Each row is barred off, allowing - when all fans in the section decide to stand - a regulated and organised terrace, without chaos. In effect, making everyone’s lives easier - especially that of stewards and police. The stewards aren’t going to be wasting their time chucking out fans who persistently stand either.

To put it really simply, a rail-seat is a seat, but one you can stand in. It works like a seat does, but you can stand there. You have your own seat, your own spot, but a regulated place in which you can stand, safely.

What some fans are asking for, is rail-seat sections to be built into the existing structure of a stadium. 10,000 spaces dedicated to a standing section.

Wait? This won’t get rid of my seats?

No way. If you want to be seated, you’ll be better off! There will be no tolerance for standing within seated sections if a 10-15,000 strong standing section exists within the same stadium, so you won’t have your view interrupted.

What about family sections? Think of the kids!

This won’t harm them. A common misconception is that it is simply rowdy fans that will occupy a standing section. What about tall people who have difficulty getting into their seat? What about restless people who can’t stand sitting down! What if people just like to stand? If you’re worried about your kids, then you should be aware of the ‘family sections’ that exist within stadia across the UK, because this is a case for you to utilise them! That’s what they are there for. Still, they probably won’t be harmed by the atmosphere generated from a standing section.

Atmosphere? I sing my heart out while I’m seated!

Calm down! Nobody is saying that seated fans aren’t as die-hard as standing fans. Even when sections of support move to a designated standing area, nobody is saying that you can’t sing the loudest or bring the atmosphere, it’s just that standing is better suited to atmosphere than being seated. It’s natural, because it’s boisterous. In fact, if you’re bringing the noise while seated, then praise be! I find it difficult to sing sitting down, so good job. Nobody is on a higher tier of fandom because they choose to stand, or sit. It’s clear that we are all equal.

Hmm. So this isn’t really about standing, or sitting - it’s all about choice?

Straight up. It’s about choice. If a club decided to carry on with an all-seater outlook, that’s fine. If a club rips up an end of their stadium to make a rail-seating section, that’s fine. Currently, clubs don’t have the second option. Bringing this petition to the table simply opens up the conversation, which is how we, as adults, should solve our issues. Blocking the petition? It’s blocking debate. So sign it!