West Ham United’s much publicised move to the Olympic Stadium has inadvertently carried the issue of safe-standing in modern domestic English football to the surface.
Three mixed home performances have not helped an uneasy and somewhat uncomfortable atmosphere in an arena that will certainly take time to feel like home for the Hammers.
The distance the fans are seated from the pitch is one major negative which fans will simply have to adapt to but many feel they are simply being alienated by the club’s hierarchy. Many have voiced concerns that the club are showing signs of losing their unique identity as Vice-Chairman Karen Brady has released a strict statement to supporters, warning them their season tickets may be revoked if they persistently stand and block the views of the elder and younger supporters.
“It is enormously disappointing that a large number of children and elderly supporters had their enjoyment of these opening games affected by the decision of individuals in the rows in front of them to stand throughout the games. Therefore, those who stand persistently are at risk of having their Season Tickets permanently revoked. We are obviously reluctant to take any such action against loyal fans, and we hope that we will not be put in that position. So we urge all our supporters to play their part, stay seated so that everyone can see and enjoy the game, and join together in creating a new era in our club’s history.”
Specific to West Ham’s move, the problem lies in the fact that a blind eye was unofficially turned to standing in particular areas of Upton Park; namely the Bobby Moore and Trevor Brooking Lower Stand. The season-ticket holders in these areas of the ground have since been re-located to the new West Stand Lower at the “London Stadium” and have maintained their match routine viewing habits.
It must be said that there is no debating that it is completely disrespectful and ill-mannered to stand up directly in front of children or fans who will be unable to see or stand the entire game.
However, it is becoming widely that viewed that English football is now at a stage in development where actions need to be made to introduce safe-standing sections in football stadia.
Only fourteen months ago, West Ham’s co-chairman David Gold voiced his support and congratulations on Twitter to Celtic’s introduction of a safe-standing section with rail seating in one corner of Celtic Park; “Congratulations Celtic for being the first club to introduce a safe standing area and I am confident this is just the beginning…Purpose built safe standing areas are considerably safer than the illegal and anti-social standing we have at present.”
The club, who now have a capacity for 2,900 fans to safely stand throughout games, have revealed that the proposed changes had taken five years to come to fruition after two initial application rejections from Glasgow City Council.
A new report published by the free-market think tank “The Adam Smith Institute” has called on the Minister for Sport, Tracey Crouch to repel the ban on standing areas in top-flight English football. The report also strongly suggests that safe-standing would allow clubs to lower attendance prices with further campaigns like last year’s successful “Twenty’s Plenty” initiative that has successfully introduced a £30 cap on all Premier League away tickets from the start of the 2016/17 season.
The Premier League needs to look to its European counterparts to guarantee the correct form of passion remains in the stands and to ensure future generations will continue flooding through the British turnstiles for decades to come.
Matchday tickets in the German “Bundesliga” range from between £9-£22 with the average season ticket priced as low as £207.22. Many German clubs also provide free local rail and bus travel as complimentary, making the matchday experience all the more affordable. One could argue such prices are maintaining the sport in their homeland as “the working man’s game”; whereas the same cannot be said for the billion-dollar industry that is our revenue-fuelled Premier League.
The Bundesliga’s structure needs to be closely looked at by the FA and modelled as the future standard.
Affordable ticket pricing, reasonable food & drink rates inside the stadia and dedicated safe-standing areas are ensuring packed out terraces, resounding atmospheres, low rates of crowd violence and thriving attendances in addition to the increased football participation from the younger generations. The future of the game is healthy in the Bundesliga and no social classes are being priced out of following their football club.
This will not be a simple overnight transformation to make for the English Football Association but the reversal of the safe-standing ban will be the first significant step in the right direction.