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 probably pointless trying to convince people that safe standing is a really good idea without working case studies. Celtic are giving it a good go, but I’ve decided to link up and talk to someone who follows a team who, I believe, have a shining example of safe standing.
Michael Citro runs The Mane Land, an Orlando City Soccer Club website on the SB Nation network, and his beloved Orlando really are doing a great job with their standing section. It’s even got pyro placement!
With all of this in mind, Michael was probably one of the best people to speak to about safe-standing, because it’s been installed at Orlando for over a year now. How are things getting on since he first experienced safe standing? I asked him a few questions.
Can you sum up the standing experience?
MC: I think it was a more tactile experience as a soccer fan to be part of the safe standing section. You’re engaged constantly. Many fans around the world can sit and chant or stand in front of their seats, or whatever, but being part of “The Wall” has its own unique feel and flavour. The grandstand seems much steeper and you feel as though you loom over the end of the pitch. There’s a tendency to work more stomping and jumping into your regular game day experience, and it just feels more interactive. It’s hard to explain but it’s a different experience than sitting or standing in front of a purchased seat.
A lot of questions still exist from critics about the safety of ‘standing areas’, did you ever feel in danger, or unsafe?
MC: No, I never felt unsafe or in any kind of danger. The section at Orlando City Stadium features a bar that runs across the front of each row, so you never feel you’re going to fall on someone or have someone fall on you. The bar has drink holders affixed to it, so you’re in easy reach of your beer or other beverage. Further, the bar is a good thing to hold onto while your stomping or jumping. You don’t really feel at risk from anyone on either side of you and as you’re already standing, there is no need to jump up from your seat to high five your neighbours. You’re already set up perfectly for that when the goals come.
How does a standing section work? You have a ticket for a specific spot?
MC: In OCS, there is a general admission ticket in the Supporters Section that puts you in the standing section. From there, you go and select where you want to be. Each “seat” area is numbered and there are lines on either side that mark off “your space” and that separates it from the others. I rarely looked down to note if I was still within my allotted area but there didn’t seem to be any issues with people sort of drifting into someone else’s space. The numbering makes it possible to have a ticket for a specific spot but in my experience that hasn’t been the case with Orlando City to this point.
What about the comfort? I’d naturally assume you were more uncomfortable standing than sitting, if you are anything like me!
MC: I’m not a young person anymore but it was surprisingly OK! My feeling going in was to think, “surely I’ll be wiped out by halftime,” but I found I was constantly in motion – jumping (at my age!), bouncing, stomping and kicking the aluminium floor to make noise, etc. – and when the final whistle blew I wasn’t at all shattered the way I thought I’d be. Most stadium chairs aren’t all that comfortable anyway, so, all things considered, it was fine.
Did you feel more excitable, or more boisterous because you were standing up?
MC: Much to my surprise, I did, actually. I felt more involved in the game, was in constant motion, and that level of being upright and often in motion energised me.
And you can sit down on the rail seat if you so wanted?
MC: That wasn’t an option when I was there. I am not sure it is an option now, either. I believe those can be easily installed but to my knowledge they either weren’t there when I stood in that section or I didn’t notice them.
Since your time in the standing section, how has the support been from that specific area of the stadium?
MC: That is where the supporters are, so it’s been an integral part of driving the rhythm of the game through chants, songs, etc. It’s the section of the stadium that energizes the team on the field, and it’s the end that the players run toward, locked arm in arm, after the match. It’s a vital part of the match day atmosphere.
Finally, should every club follow Orlando’s example and why?
MC: Ordinarily I would say that every club should follow its own unique path. However, I do think that giving fans the option of a safe standing section can be beneficial for both the fans and the stadium’s atmosphere (which obviously can help the team on the pitch). Teams around Major League Soccer are starting to include such sections in their new stadiums and it’s a trend that seems to be a positive one. If you watch a Dortmund game on television you can’t help but be impressed by their wall. It does seem to ramp up the intensity of matches for both teams and when the Lions attack that end of the pitch – typically in the second half – it seems to drive them forward, as evidenced by the club taking seven points from a losing position in the first four home matches this season. Everyone should join the party!