AS a Bristol City fan, my first visit to Anfield was as a teenager in November 1977, writes JON DARCH. It was John Toshack’s last game before leaving to take over as manager at Swansea. Kenny Dalglish gave Liverpool an early lead, but City’s Gerry Gow beat Ray Clemence to level the scores. That’s how it stayed and I went home content that lowly City had managed to get a point against the European Cup holders.
I also went home hugely impressed by the atmosphere at Anfield that day. And it was no special day for your club. Not a big European night. Not a Merseyside derby. Not a game against United. Just a run-of-the-mill First Divison match against the equivalent today of perhaps Burnley or Leicester. Despite this, The Kop had been in fine voice, with its songs and chants barely stopping from start to finish.
Fast forward nearly 40 years and I see Liverpool message boards and sites like The Anfield Wrap full of discussions about the lack of atmosphere at Anfield. Complaints about tourists on The Kop. Moans about spectators more interested in taking photos than in cheering on the team. Concerns about the difficulty in getting ‘singers’ grouped together. And, of course, concerns about the cost of tickets.
Football has changed. Anfield has changed. The Kop has changed. And not all for the better.
It’s great that fans are now provided with facilities fit for human use and no longer, as was so often the case in the past, caged in like animals on crumbling terraces with no shelter from the elements and only the most basic of amenities. But the improvements in stadium facilities have come at a cost. A gentrification of the crowd, a loss of atmosphere and an outrageous increase in ticket prices out of all proportion to the rise in average earnings.
Back in 1977 when I made that first visit to Anfield, I was at university studying German. Over the years since then, I’ve watched a fair bit of football in that country, where in 1998-99 their top Bundesliga clubs were presented with a problem. UEFA announced that in future all games in their club competitions would have to be staged in all-seater stadia. One response to that might have been for all major German clubs to make their grounds permanently all-seater.
However, German clubs are controlled by their members and their members highly value fan culture, which includes retaining standing and keeping football affordable for all. So the clubs were never going to remove standing at their domestic matches. They therefore had to find a way to provide standing for their passionate fans behind the goal for a Bundesliga match on a Saturday, while conforming to UEFA’s all-seater rule if they then played in mid-week in Europe. And so the ‘rail seat’ was born.
The atmosphere at German grounds has thus never been stifled by any domestic all-seater policy. Grounds like Borussia Dortmund’s have now, dare I say, probably stolen Anfield’s erstwhile crown as the stadium with the best atmosphere in Europe. And full adult ticket prices for the Yellow Wall at Dortmund remain only £13, a cost everyone can afford.
So, what can we do to get the atmosphere back into our grounds in England and not least at Anfield? How can we make football the people’s game once again?
As a member of the Football Supporters Federation and with my interest in what’s been happening with rail seats in Germany, I’ve become heavily involved in recent years in the FSF’s ‘Safe Standing’ campaign. The name of the campaign is actually unfortunate, as it implies that some standing is unsafe. However, we’re rather stuck with it (it originated, in fact, as a campaign by Man City fans ahead of their move to what is now the Etihad, when the campaign was called ‘Standing Areas For Eastlands’, and later morphed into the national campaign). A more accurate term might be ‘safer seating’, because that is what rail seats will provide.
Stadia will still be all-seater, i.e. they will have seats throughout every stand. But in those areas where fans like to congregate to stand and sing, rail seats will make them safer by providing a continuous waist-high rail along every row to prevent any tumbling over low seat-backs into the row in front when wildly celebrating a last-minute winning goal.
Since 2011, my ‘Safe Standing Roadshow’, four rail seats on a small demonstration stand that dismantles for transportation and goes into the back of a mate’s white van, has helped to explain the rail seating concept to club executives, fans, the media and politicians up and down the country.
As a result, the 72 clubs of the Football League have now mandated their executive team to seek government permission for the running of one or two trials of rail seating. The Premier League clubs have not yet taken a formal vote on how they wish to proceed, but their level of interest and support is just as great — privately if not, in some cases, publicly.
A few trials, probably in the Football League initially, would enable ground operators and safety authorities to determine best practice (How high should the rails be? Should fans be required to stand at a specfic seat? Would unreserved seating work better? Should capacity be limited to one fan per seat space? Or would the extra room created by the lack of protruding seats facilitate a modest increase in capacity? If so, to what extent and how should it be ticketed?).
Only after evidence of what works best has been gained from such trials and duly set down in the relevant regulations, would I envisage the green light being given to other clubs to install — if they so wished — rail seats for standing fans at their grounds. At this stage, therefore, all the campaign is asking for from Westminster is permission for trials to be run.
To my mind, creating a designated area where all those fans who prefer to spend matchdays actively participating in the theatre of the occasion rather than passively sitting back and waiting to be entertained would be guaranteed to improve the atmosphere. Nothing kills it more than having the enthusiastic singers dotted around a stand, unable to get anything going in unison. Conversely, nothing creates a greater sense of community, than having all like-minded fans grouped together.
And the fans in such an area, just like those now in pockets on The Kop and in most of the away section whenever Liverpool are on the road, will naturally stand. How else can you sing your hearts out for the lads? Given that this is the case, it makes sense to ensure that the accommodation provided for them is fit for purpose. A point made a year or so ago in a video filmed at Anfield for BT Sport by Liverpool fan Tony Evans. Tony ended his video by saying: “while people stand at football matches, and they always will, we need to do the safest thing. And the safest thing is safe standing.”
So rail seating will make standing fans safer and undoubtedly help to improve the atmosphere by acting as a magnet to draw like-minded fans together. But will it also reduce ticket prices?
Ultimately that will be down to the clubs, but I believe there is a good chance it will. For two reasons. Price elasticity is one.
Although at Bayern Munich, for instance, you can pay as much as €70 if you want a seat along the side of the ground, you can also get in for just €15, if you’re happy to stand behind the goal. In other words, the cheapest ticket costs about 20 per cent of the dearest ones. For category A games at Anfield this season the range from top price to bottom price has been £59 to £46. In other words, the cheapest ticket costs a whopping 80 per cent of the highest price one. That pricing is not very ‘elastic’!
Many clubs recognise this and would like to offer a broader spread of prices. But they have a problem. They have only one ‘product’ on offer: a conventional seat. If Liverpool charged, let’s say, £20 for a seat on The Kop, you can well imagine that somone paying £59 for essentially the same ‘product’ in the Main Stand might well get a bit miffed. That would create pressure to cut prices at the top end of the price range as well, which clubs are naturally loathe to do.
However, if the ‘product’ being offered by clubs behind the goal was one that is of no interest to spectators sitting in the main stands alongside the pitch, those fans wouldn’t be bothered about the price being charged for it. A very different product, i.e. a rudimentary metal seat, can thus be priced at a much lower level, without creating any pressure on ticket prices at the top end of the range.
The second reason I believe that rail seating could lead to lower ticket prices is the potential increase in capacity that it offers.
The next time you’re at a match, take a look at your seat. You’ll see that the bracket supporting it and thus the seat bottom itself protrude a long way into the seating row even when the seat is tipped up. The curved back of the seat in front also eats into the space on your row. Rail seats do neither. The flat metal seat folds up flush between the 5cm upright, so much more space is left free along each row. This means that instead of having one single line of fans standing shoulder to shoulder behind each row of rail seats, you can potentially have some fans standing towards the front of each row and others standing towards the back.
In Germany, where the rows tend to be a bit deeper than in our grounds (certainly than in our older ones), they often accommodate two lines of fans in this way, i.e. a ratio of two fans per rail seat. Current UK guidelines for the number of standing spectators per square metre in lower league grounds, rugby stadia and racecourses suggest that 1.8 fans per rail seat would be the equivalent recommended comfortable capacity in a ground of typical UK configuration. 1.8 fans paying, for instance, £26 each, produce more revenue for the club than one fan paying the current seat price of £46. Another good reason to believe that rail seating could lead not only to an improved atmosphere, but reduced ticket prices as well.
All of this, however, is conjecture right now. Before we get to the stage where clubs are able to consider what they would charge for tickets for a rail seating area, we need to get to the stage where the government gives them the go-ahead to consider installing such seats.
Read: Where’s our famous atmosphere – Liverpool, Nostalgia and ‘Real Fans’
And to get there, we believe that the sensible next step is for a few, closely monitored, strictly controlled trials to be run at a handful of Football League grounds. The last government, however, was very reluctant to allow such trials.
One reason they cited was their belief that Liverpool fans would be against this. I think they got that wrong. I believe that Liverpool fans are actually open-minded and willing to see carefully run trials take place, recognising that they will deliver key data to help take the debate forward and potentially make our standing fans safer, improve the atmosphere and lower ticket prices.
I’d like to see the atmosphere at Anfield get back to how it used to be when it was the envy of the world. When I first visted, for instance, in 1977. If you would, too, and you agree that a few small trials would be a useful next step, please take a second to answer the question below.
Pics: David Rawcliffe-Propaganda-Photo & Stadionwel
Like The Anfield Wrap on Facebook
Standing would be welcome, but I don’t think it’ll help the sad state of atmosphere in the PL. You need mates to enter as a group and be together. Safe standing is just more people assigned to specific seats.
Blame the thugs and hooligans in the 70s and 80s that started the demise and ensured the police would treat us like animals, herding us like cattle, home and away, division below division, even in non-league. Those drunken tossers more interesting in causing physical harm are the root of all seater mentality.
Or people stereotyping about huge crowds and labelling them all hooligans…
“Safe standing is just more people assigned to specific seats.”
That actually depends on the implementation. In Dortmund’s Südtribüne, you’re entitled to enter a specific sector with your ticket. Once you’ve entered the sector, you’re allowed to stand anywhere. In my example, Dortmund’s Kop is divided into 11 sectors, for about 25,000 people, so there’s a good chance that you and your mates all get the same sector. See this chart: http://www.bvb.de/Tickets/Sitzplan
Blame the society which bred that violence.
Combine it with a pay on the day turnstile and it might work. Otherwise you’ll just end up with a stand full of daytrippers standing instead of sitting.
I doubt daytrippers want to stand
I’m daytripper, even classed as a tourist by some. I always try to sing along when possible. I would love to be able to stand at games.
What the PL isn’t currently addressing is the existing safety issue of unsafe standing.
An option for the PL would be 1 person per seat / standing option instead of increasing the capacity once the standing option is in place.
Having been a Reds supporter from the late 50,s and then being away from the UK for many years, the BIGGEST problem that strikes me re all-seater and atmosphere is that because fans have a guaranteed seat, they arrive literally minutes before kick-off.
In the “old days” fans would be in the ground well before KO, hence all the singing to kill time. I’ve been at Anfield when the gates have been locked an hour before KO for a league game. Also teams didn’t warm up on the pitch before hand so there was a greater build up of expectation which led to more of an eruption from the crowd when the teams came out.
So a simple solution to lack of atmosphere – get the fans to arrive earlier like they used to.
From a completely mercenary perspective, an all-seater stadia led to me losing a kop season ticket – less seats, not enough ‘seniority’ – so when redundancy finally forced me to give it up, I wasn’t too arsed about getting back on the waiting list to sit somewhere I didn’t really want to be. If rail seating could increase capacity as well as provide better matchday atmosphere I’d be more inclined to make the effort to get back on the waiting list, and that’s money in the bank for the owners.
When I read the title of this piece my thoughts immediately turned to German football and in particular Dortmund. As I read on I realised this is exactly where Jon was going.
How good could the new Kop be (when built) if we could have safe standing on it and in particular if fans were able to stand where they wanted, amongst friends and family???
It could go a long way to rejuvenating the atmosphere!
I’m all over this, I think it’s something that has to happen but despite the brilliant work being done by the author, I’m not too confident we’ll see it at Anfield. It would need the club to care about the atmosphere or the fans.
I’m sure citing Liverpool fans wouldn’t be happy has an element of dismissiveness about it but I do think there’s some truth it. About 2 months ago I heard a relative of a Hillsborough victim say it’s insulting to talk about safe standing whilst the inquest is ongoing (City Talk radio). As a result of hearing that I can relate to it and understand the viewpoint.
That said, it’s something I’d definitely like to see when the time is right and I voted yes in the above poll.
How many people sit in their seats for the whole of the game anyway? surely what’s happening now constitutes ‘safe standing?’ If you could take away the scenario where Liverpool score and you end up 30 feet away from where you were originally standing, (great though it was at the time) but allow the lads that want to sing and get behind the team to get together behind the goal in safety that’s got to be good hasn’t it?
In our section of the Kop we all do unless it’s against Utd or Everton.
How many people sit in their seats for the whole of the game anyway?
If I ever got a ticket on the Kop, the only time I’d ever sit down was at half time. Basically just to take a minute and recharge.
It’s not a choice thing mate,
While it is a sensitive issue around the club due to Hillsborough and the need to tread carefully due to the wishes of the families, and rightly so, its incorrect to state that the disaster was as a result of standing. It was the result of a total collapse of match day organisation and control from those in charge and the end result was tragedy for those that just happened to be standing. With modern match day controls in place as well as strong stewarding I think this proposal is an excellent idea to safeguarding that future generations of supporters aren’t priced out of the game as well as generating unrivaled atmospheres which can only benefit the exposure of the league worldwide. Thousands of arenas world wide have standing areas, Croke Park in Dublin for example, that have never had an issue. This in the main is due to safe and proper filtering of fans and constant scrutiny on areas from matchday control.
Whilst a previous poster mentioned a “pay on the day” system I personally don’t think this could ever be feasible for a club of Liverpool’s size again. It would draw huge volumes of people to the area on matchday and cause chaos in relation to policing numbers and other security issues. We’d end up with repeats of scenes like Athens in 07 which we never want again.
Great piece with all the relevant points covered especially regarding the reduced prices due to higher attendances without decreasing safety.
The reason Liverpool will be the hardest to get on board is mostly down to Trevor Hicks. Obviously none of us could even comprehend what hes been through and he sees the banning of standing sections as a step made to prevent a repeat of Hillsborough from ever happening again.
He won’t listen to an argument for safe standing not like Ann Williams who took on board the points made for it, and wouldn’t have tried to stop the club going down that route.
To get Liverpool on board it means convincing the HFSG which the club wouldn’t bother engaging with on this matter.
Maybe after the inquests but even then it will be strongly opposed no reason why the rest of the country shouldn’t be able to though.
Whether there is validity to this argument or not, and evidence in Germany to support it, I find it astonishingly insensitive and disrespectful to raise it to Liverpool fans while the Inquest is ongoing. The families of the 96 have devoted their lives to the fight for Justice for the loved ones they lost. In addition, there are thousands of fans who came home that fateful day but have lived every day since trying to cope with what they witnessed and experienced. Their lives have never been the same, and they certainly think about it, flash back on it, endure it silently every time they approach any football ground and enter the turnstiles.
I’m willing to bet the people pressing this agenda are predominantly in their 20s — either not yet born or too young in 1989 to even comprehend what happened that year. I want a brilliant atmosphere at Anfield as much as anyone else, but I think the time for this debate among Liverpool fans is not now, not until the Inquests have concluded, not until the fight for justice has been definitively won. For many there will never be a right time for this debate, not in their lifetimes. Please respect them; please respect what they have experienced and can never erase from their memories.
The thing is Ellie, whilst I also agree now is not the time for Liverpool FC to debate safe standing I feel I want to say a few things. Firstly, although on appearance I might look like I’m in my 20’s, I’m actually in my 40’s. When I comment on here I often have an attitude of I’ll say what I want and if people don’t like it then I’m pleased because I only say what I feel. I ry and comment honestly. In this case I really hope the views that I express don’t offend anyone. I would hate to come across as insensitive. It’s just that I want this discussed with the club when the time is right. The Hillsborough families don’t own this debate. They’ll rightfully have a large say in it but I believe this is a progressive movement. I don’t believe this is turning the clocks back, far from it. I’m absolutely certain all the lessons will have been learned by the time this would ever be implemented. So, if there was ever an act that forgot about Hillsborough and turned back the clocks I would always support the families stance. I think the argument here for those in favour is this is genuinely ‘safe standing’ and as I believe that is the case too, this is how I feel.
I think your position, Ellie, whilst no doubt sincere, makes the category error of linking the mere act of ‘standing’ with the deaths at Hillsborough. The 96 didn’t die because they were standing; they died because those entrusted with their safety failed in their duty (and then lied about having done so). Linking Hillsborough to standing makes no more sense than linking the Bradford fire to sitting. The solution after Valley Parade was not to do away with seated stands, but rather to make sitting at a football match safer (e.g. replacing wooden seats and infrastructure with steel and plastic, etc.). There is no reason why standing at a football match cannot be made similarly safe and it in no way disrespects the 96 or their families to say as much.
Comments like Ellie’s above about “disrespect” towards the families of the 96 infuriate me beyond belief.
First of all, her intentions are good. We all stand together with the families and we’re united in their grief and struggle for justice.
But the reason it annoys me so much is that people like Ellie have bought into the lie perpetuated by the government and the press. In short, blaming “hooliganism”, standing at games and stadium conditions was the plan behind the cover-up. Scape-goating mainly our fans but also the facilities – anything to absolve the individuals responsible of the role they played in allowing 96 to die. Wake up Ellie.
I’ve got a lot of respect for John Darch, Tony Evans, and anyone else willing to raise the question of safe standing amongst our support. It’s something which can indeed earn you an enormous amount of vitriol from people who see it as a slight on the Hillsborough campaign. It has nothing to do with Hillsborough – and linking the two acts only to support the “official line” that is currently unravelling in the courts.
Personally I don’t think we’ll ever get safe-standing at Anfield, which disappoints me greatly. I’m done with Anfield. If I have to sit down to watch the game now, I’ll do it in a pub where I can drink and be surrounded by like-minded lads in a similar position. I’ll still travel to aways to watch the Reds, but if more clubs follow the Hull route, I’ll be priced out.
We’d all love the German model, but at the risk of sounding defeatist – the horse has long since bolted.
All due respect, PWL, but you have missed my point entirely.
Also, let me be 100% clear — my comment was not meant to start any conversation AT ALL about hooliganism or any of the factors related to the tragedy — before, during, or after. I completely accept and abide by the Attorney General’s initial Warning and the Solicitor General’s subsequent reminder and caution regarding commenting on social media while the Inquest is ongoing. That guidance is an additional reason why this is a terrible and completely inappropriate time to put forward this debate. There will not be a fair and balanced discussion because many people will refrain from expressing an opinion in the face of those Warnings.
My comment above was a request to show respect for those who still suffer. That’s ALL it was about. Do NOT misuse it for any other purpose. If it is mis-used I will ask TAW to remove my comment and any replies related to it.
Just briefly, you’ve said nothing wrong whatsoever. The reply was a ridiculous comment. He’s obviously unaware of some of the feelings in this debate.
I fully respect your position Ellie, and in part I agree. The families’ welfare is paramount – they should be the number 1 priority for this club and our fans.
But to try and put this debate off and label it “astonishingly disrespectful” is totally disproportionate – because for me, it is completely unrelated.
The role of the Inquest is to retrace the events of that day and find out exactly who was responsible and why they allowed it to happen.
It has nothing to do with the implementation of rail seating, or questions about atmosphere.
I do apologise if my comment was heavy-handed, but this is a real sore point for me. I think it’s vital we distance the two, and allow the discussion on atmosphere improvement to continue in the public sphere. Doing that, and showing the utmost respect to the families are NOT mutually exclusive actions.
I’m completely with you PWL. The ongoing inquests are happening because it is now a matter of historical record that the police and other authorities failed in their duty of care owed to the fans who travelled to Hillsborough that day. I respect that others feel differently, but it makes not one iota of sense to use the fact that there is an ongoing inquest to stifle a debate about safe standing unless you think standing was a primary cause for the disaster. And to think that is to dilute the responsibility of those whose failures led to the deaths of 96 innocent fans.
We’re all fans of LFC and obviously feel passionately about this subject, but I would ask that other fans don’t seek to invoke this criminal tragedy to shutdown otherwise legitimate debate, to not presume to speak for everyone connected with that tragedy, and to not impute disrespect to those who want to see a fair debate about safe standing.
Not that it should matter, but I’m 46.
We have to end this but I want to say one thing in defence of Ellie. You’ve all gone over the top, her point is simply that the families are against safe standing. Fact.
Hi Ellie,I’m with you.
A few years ago “the powers that be” announced an initiative to reconsider safe standing.I couldn’t help but think that the timing of that announcement was either naive or sinister.I’m still not sure sure which.
We can’t say anything more about these things but we probably have to remember that there are some people around here who have very little knowledge and react with a quick click.
Forgive them eh?
PWL: Apology accepted. However, I stand by my earlier comments.
We should wait until the inquest is completely over. I agree.
I’m not saying whether I’m for or against safe standing but even so, safe standing will only have a minimal effect in my opinion. On the 3 occasions I’ve been forced to sit in Andield Road end hospitality this season I’ve sang and made lots of noise while sat down (on my own looking like a nutter). YOU CAN SING AND MAKE AN ATMOSPHERE WHILE SAT DOWN IF YOU HAVE THE WILL. Too many people in the ground just don’t know the songs. Even when songs get going they just die out.
I think this is Because 18-25 year olds are being priced out of the ground. Even if these youngsters did have the means to attend, they then have the battle of finding tickets and once in the ground they are separated from their mates.
The best thing Liverpool FC could do to improve atmosphere is:
– Give concessions to GROUPS of students/under 25’s in the new stand(Sell tickets in 6’s)
– make new stand a pay at the gate. Hard core supporters queuing up from 6 in the morning would certainly ensure hardcore singing surely.
– Have a rule whereby ONLY the season ticket holder can attend the game. Picture ID on the cards with strict checks.
Will any of this happen? NO! Will the atmosphere get better? Not unless we get relegated or spend 5 seasons in the bottom half of the table so that the younger, more vocal crowd can get hold of tickets again and be able to sit with a group of mates.
Liverpool FC just don’t care. It’s just a business where the most important thing is the bottom line. Greed is ruining our game.
Gate receipts are a drop in Ocean compared to TV money. Would love LFC to take a stand on this. Surely a better atmosphere creates a cauldron atmosphere and leads to better results which indirectly boosts profit.
Perhaps I’m mad?