After a thrilling all-German Champions League final at Wembley in May, it will be inevitable that more attention will now be put on the Bundesliga here in the UK. If one compares the Bundesliga with the Premier League, there are two key differences that stand out: ticket prices are much lower and the matches have a fantastic atmosphere. There is a strong argument that both of these factors come as a direct result of safe standing terraces being permitted in the Bundesliga.
Standing terraces remain a taboo subject here in the UK because of previous stadium tragedies. Nevertheless, there are still advocates who would like to see them return.
Standing terraces remain a taboo subject here in the UK because of previous stadium tragedies. Nevertheless, there are still advocates who would like to see them return. In fact, earlier in the year the Football Supporters Federation (FSF) campaigned for a pilot scheme to test designated safe standing areas in football stadiums. One of the most compelling arguments is that the Bundesliga, lower divisions in England and other sports (such as rugby) have designated standing areas, so why can’t there be similar provisions for the Premier League or the Championship?
The law regarding stadium safety
There are many arguments both for and against standing terraces, but for us to consider their return we must first look at the history of the law surrounding them. Most of the current law in stadium safety derives from the Football Spectators Act 1989. This act was composed from a series of reports on crowd and stadium safety, namely the Popplewell Reports (1985–1986) and the Taylor Report (1989–90). These reports were commissioned as a result of the Hillsborough tragedy to show a strong governmental response to the disaster and to show that spectator safety was a priority.
When the reports were published, perhaps the most controversial recommendation made in them was that all of the relevant football stadiums should provide all-seater stadiums for spectators by the start of the 1999/2000 season. This recommendation was imposed on all teams playing in the Premier League and what is now known as the Championship by the Football Spectators (Seating) Order 1994/1666.
A similar view to the findings and recommendations of the two reports is also echoed by the world governing body of football, FIFA. The FIFA Safety Regulations state that ‘major FIFA tournaments…may only be played in all-seater stadiums.’
A similar view to the findings and recommendations of the two reports is also echoed by the world governing body of football, FIFA.
UEFA also have similar regulations in place to ensure that Champions League and Europa League matches are played in all-seater stadiums. The UEFA Stadium Infrastructure Regulations state that ‘any standing accommodation is prohibited’.
This means that the standing terraces that are usually in place at some European stadiums, such as in Germany, have to be temporarily converted into seated areas for European matches. This is a system that could easily be incorporated into existing stadiums of the Premier League. However, in considering the regulations set out by FIFA and UEFA, it seems unlikely that the FA will change their stance on safe standing terraces in the Premier League. Neither FIFA nor UEFA permit such areas in their major tournaments, therefore it is unlikely that the FA will either.
Considering the social issues
The legal and football governing body’s factors have been discussed, but with subjects like this there are also social issues which have to be taken in to consideration. One of the main concerns would be the affect that the re-introduction of standing terraces would have on the families of the 96 people who died in the Hillsborough tragedy. However, it could be argued that there is a sense of justice that has now been served for the families after the inquiry last year. In the inquiry the focus was shifted to the flawed stadium design, large fences and fatal policing errors, which were said to have caused the tragedy and that standing terraces were not to blame.
Standing, if executed in a safe manner as it is in the Bundesliga or in rugby, could prove to be a real success in the Premier League. There should not be one uniform and somewhat outdated standard in the Premier League that we cannot have standing terraces without tragedy. There are many proven examples that can be followed which will disprove this notion.
Any change in the law to permit standing terraces would need to go through Parliament, and this is perhaps the most difficult hurdle to overcome.
However, the reality is that the law in its current state will not allow for this to be a possibility. Instead, the law emphasises that the safety of spectators in stadiums is paramount. It also seems unlikely that the FA or the government will change their stance on standing terraces regardless of the proven systems that other leagues and sports have in place. It also seems unlikely that MPs would back any campaign advocating safe standing terraces because of previous stadium tragedies.
The Popplewell and Taylor Reports, combined with the impact on the family members of the people who died in previous stadium tragedies, would almost make a campaign by advocates of standing terraces destined for failure. This is an unfortunate scenario considering that other leagues and sports have a proven blueprint in place that the Premier League could follow.
Any change in the law to permit standing terraces would need to go through Parliament, and this is perhaps the most difficult hurdle to overcome. This is because very few MPs will be willing to support any campaign for their re-introduction in the Premier League. Parliament would view this as taking a step in the wrong direction after the Hillsborough tragedy. It is solely for this reason that we are very unlikely to see standing terraces in the Premier League in the near future.
Bhaarat Patel graduated from Nottingham Trent University in 2012 with a Second Class (1st Division) Law degree with Honours. He completed his undergraduate thesis on the fairness of WADA’s strict liability principle imposed on athletes who are found to have a banned substance in their body.