THE FASCINATING CASE OF THE STANDING TERRACE

An empty Kop at Notts County's Meadow Lane via NTL World An empty Kop at Notts County's Meadow Lane via NTL World https://public.bn1302.livefilestore.com/y2pxIbACdbEF12_9xlYLk60hpkA85A9WpYHF2ie2P2I5TIDnYsBy_mw6vrxawjYol87zWdrmfjUmmQKcT3Y9sWq-iXHUDvIvDsM58BcNW13F5U/1962MeadowLaneFromKop.JPG?rdrts=99943962

Standing terraces are a thing of the past, correct? Prepare to have your assumptions tested as proponents of the return of the terrace in English Football argue their case.

As a relative newcomer to the European version of football, I constantly find myself playing catch-up with the rules and traditions that make this such a captivating game. One tradition I always assumed was best left in the past was the standing terrace. The image of overflowing fans jostling and pushing forward following a goal terrified me and made me wary of ever attending a professional football match in Europe. Learning about disasters like the one at Hillsborough Stadium in Sheffield, England in 1989 where 96 fans were crushed at an overcrowded FA Cup Semi Final between Liverpool FC and Nottingham Forest confirmed my belief that this method of organizing spectators was truly insane. Apparently those in charge agreed – the Taylor Report of 1990 dictated that all teams in the top two levels had to abandon terraces in favor of seats by 1994. Though some lower league stadiums still cling to their terraced sections for various reasons, since the Taylor Report new stadiums have sprouted up around the country and a new generation of grounds are ‘all-seaters’ and the terrace is a thing of the past. Good then. Everyone agrees. Or so I thought.

One of the many benefits of being married to my lovely, English wife is it allows me to pick the brain of her former university-level footballer father and brother about the sport they love. Wolverhampton Wanderer diehard Richard, Aston Villa fan Anthony and I talk endlessly about all aspects of the great game. One topic we return to often  is that of the terrace. You see, they are both smart, curious, forward-thinking people and shockingly are both proponents of the terrace. At this point I hand this blog over to my Wolves fan father-in-law Richard to explain:

For a true supporter, the experience of attending a sporting event can be so much more than that derived from, say, a play or concert. You have an affinity with the current players on the field, a deep feeling for and knowledge of the history of the club and its traditions. How best can these feelings be transmitted to the team to show them your loyalty and spur them on to even greater success?

As a child and teenager, like most supporters at that time, I always stood on the terraces (or on the shoulders of my standing father – we start young in the UK!). Many larger clubs had high terraced ‘banks’ – the individual stepped terraces would be of varying heights and widths. Many would be clearly defined concrete steps, but some, in the 1950s, would be very provisional. Some grounds were originally sited within or adjacent to quarries or spoil tips, such as at Aston Villa and Charlton Athletic, and in parts of the ground you would literally climb up the ‘bank’ and secure a precarious footing as best you could. If you arrived early you could commandeer a favoured spot immediately behind or below one of the occasional, heavy steel control barriers. You could lean against them or prop children on top of them to obtain a better view.

A packed East End at Charlton Athletic’s Valley Stadium via Football Forums
An empty East End via Football Forums

Whether the steps were purpose built or simply created by the regular pounding of many feet, closely packed the crowd moved or swayed as one, adding to the sense of camaraderie, support for a common cause and overall ‘well-being’. ‘All for one and one for all!’ It encouraged even the most inhibited to join in the traditional supporters’ songs and provided much-needed, massed body-warmth on cold, wet afternoons – games were rarely postponed or abandoned through rain, fog or if there were two or three inches of snow on the pitch. (But there were no evening games in the winter at most grounds as floodlights were only just being introduced.)

The crowd were in charge of composing the tunes or chants creating the atmosphere and usually did it very well; there was little or no artificial stimuli, exhortations or contrived ditties through loudspeakers as there is today to create support. Early television and movie footage of high, covered terraces such as the ‘Spion Kop‘ behind the goal at Liverpool’s Anfield ground perhaps best illustrates the degree of passion generated by a closely-packed, standing crowd.

A packed Kop in 1981 via LFC: The Reds Gallery
An empty Kop at Anfield in Liverpool via Groundhopper 27 Flickr

If a major incident such as a forward breaking away, a corner, a penalty or harsh tackle was anticipated or occurred, everyone would strain their heads and lean on the person immediately in front to obtain a better view. This created a ripple effect, often resulting in large sections of the crowd descending haphazardly down five or six levels of terracing or more before turning and clambering back up to as near as they could to their original position. At a big match this would happen several times in a game. It was every man or child for himself. As a young lad it added to the excitement and, perhaps not realising the potential dangers, I quite enjoyed it. I don’t recall any major mishaps, but I am sure they happened occasionally. Those leaning on the barriers needed to be particularly on their toes – ducking under and down at a moments notice.

Overall, I think the benefits of being in a crowd standing close together, singing and exchanging banter outweighs any disadvantages. People should certainly have the choice of standing or sitting. There is a case for creating safe, purpose-built standing areas at all grounds.  Such facilities can most easily be achieved or retained at the smaller grounds where the terracing can be shallow and of no great height. This would encourage some traditionally loyal supporters whose attendance has lapsed to come back and experience the true spirit of football as they knew it – at reasonable prices.

It should however be remembered that today’s crowds are somewhat different – many expect what they would consider ‘higher standards’ of accommodation and comfort and would disdain ‘standing’.

Perhaps many like to be seen in the sponsors’ boxes or the best seats they can afford!

The few clubs who can rely on support from a wide catchment at city, regional or even national level – as is the case with the elite of the Premier League – can find sufficient numbers of people (not necessarily all ‘fans’ in the traditional sense) who are prepared to pay large sums of money for seated accommodation. The provision of such facilities has squeezed out a significant proportion of the traditionally loyal fans from the local area, without threatening the revenue income. From a financial viewpoint these clubs would probably not gain from reintroducing some standing terracing. However, for the majority of clubs who do not regularly, if ever, fill their stadiums to capacity, providing the choice of sitting or standing should certainly increase the size of the crowd, provide cheap tickets for children and young people who will be the ‘loyal supporters’ of the future and with a carefully planned pricing structure should increase income.

The enforcement of an all-seating policy at major grounds in recent years has reduced their capacity. In some cases major rebuilding has restored or exceeded previous capacity, but many clubs cannot afford to do this. To help compensate for any loss of revenue and to pay for the capital costs of providing additional seating, clubs charge significant amounts for seats, increasing the average price of tickets and preventing some sectors of society attending regularly or at all. The high costs have discouraged people from taking children.

The merchandising of refreshments, glossy programmes and souvenirs, often highly priced for what they are, has potentially further increased the average cost of a visit to the local club (particularly if you have impressionable offspring with you). The result is that some supporters who once would have gone to many home matches in the course of a season, now attend only occasionally. No doubt the marketeers and club treasurers take all these factors and trends into account in their pricing decisions, but many previously loyal fans have drifted away. Many smaller clubs and a few larger clubs with philanthropic tendencies have ensured opportunities remain to see a match at reasonable cost.

And what of the potential plight of women standing on terraced slopes? One of the arguments put forward for all-seater stadiums is to encourage more women to attend.  But surely in the era of stalwart, female Olympic boxers and women soccer players this is no longer an issue? If they really wanted to, they could sit with the pseudo-supporters in their air-conditioned boxes, piped ditties and cucumber sandwiches, but I know where I would rather be!

This passionate sentiment articulates a feeling held by many football supporters in the UK. In a recent survey of over 4,000 fans by the Football Supporters’ Federation (FSF), a 200,000 person organization of British football enthusiasts, 54.4% said they prefer to stand during games and 91.1% said fans should be given the choice to sit or stand. Perhaps as a response to this, and the reasons expressed above, the Scottish Football Association has recently relaxed its laws on standing zones. English clubs Aston Villa, Arsenal and Derby County are also apparently interested in a rethink of at least partial terraced sections for their stadiums. Peterborough United, currently playing in England’s second-level Championship Division is petitioning the FA to be allowed to keep the terraces in their London Road ground, should they stay in the top two divisions of English football. German club Hanover 96 is seen as an exemplar of a successfully integrated terraced area. At AWD-Arena, each row (instead of every third or so as in days past) has a support rail to which is attached a flip-down seat whose default position is up. This configuration smartly allows for standing while reducing the possibility of forward surge that put fans at risk at old terraced grounds.

Standing railings at AWD-Arena, Hanover via Standupsitdown

All this has got me rethinking my initial feelings about terracing. Could this be a good way to view sport? Could this be an economically smart way to get more people in stadiums for cheaper? Could terracing make stadiums physically smaller and possibly more sustainable? Could this be the wave of the future for football stadiums in Europe and abroad?  Processing these ideas I have come up with a few possible benefits to terracing in stadiums:

Smaller buildings – Easily said, you can fit more people standing than you can sitting. A 20,000 capacity all-standing stadium requires less space (i.e. less building) than a 20,000 capacity all-seater stadium. New stadiums with at least partial standing areas could have the capacities their teams require while allowing buildings to be smaller – smaller buildings are cheaper and more sustainable than bigger. As expressed above, teams promoted to higher levels could fit more supporters without having to expand their facility. Retrofitting existing stadiums with standing areas could increase overall capacity, bringing greater revenue to teams and possibly bringing more fans to the stadium.

Cheaper seats – A standing ticket costs less than a seated ticket. As stadium ticket prices continue to increase each season, fans without discretionary cash to spend are going to games less and less. A reduction in ticket price and an increase in ticket numbers could see an increase in fans coming to the stadium. Appealing to a larger audience is always a goal of a team, this sound like straight forward Economics 101 but I could be wrong.

Better atmosphere – The big moments – bottom of the ninth 2 outs, 3rd and long opposing team’s ball in your team’s end, late in the 4th quarter your team needs a stop – demand good fans be on their feet. It is awkward to no end to have to argue with your neighbor about the virtues of standing for these moments. An all-standing section would eliminate this confusion and allow fans who want to lead the cheer to do so amongst fellow standing enthusiasts and let fans perhaps with kids or the elderly to watch game calmly from their seat.

Now that we understand how terraces worked and could be re-worked in a new capacity, could they possibly play a role in the diverse spectrum of American Stadiums? Let’s take a look:

College – Yes. This one seems a no-brainer for both football and basketball. Student sections at college games are some of the rowdiest in American stadia where fans/students rarely sit down. Either standing on seats (dangerous) or bleachers, students jump, jostle and reposition constantly throughout a match. On rethinking my college days at Autzen Stadium and MacArthur Court in Eugene, I am surprised I never heard of injuries at the matches. Before something does occur, it seems wise to retrofit student sections with smartly conceived standing facilities.

Students at Autzen Stadium in Eugene, OR stand for their Ducks via World is Round

MLS – Yes. Standing for Major League Soccer stadiums also seems to make sense. Terraces in MLS stadiums would greatly enhance the atmosphere for American Soccer and neatly reference to both the British stadium of yore and current condition of many South American stadiums. Hey Cosmos / New Flushing Meadows Stadium – you listening?

NFL –I could see this one happening. As reported by the Wall Street Journal, the NFL is currently looking for ways to enhance the in-stadium atmosphere and to increase dropping attendance figures, reduced rate standing areas seem to make some sense.  Field level seats wouldn’t be a bad area to devote to standing as these are often limited sight line seats anyway and from field level, a boisterous standing crowd would have greatest impact on the game – I’m thinking of you Raider Nation in Oakland, Dawg Pound in Cleveland and Fireman Ed’s crew at MetLife Stadium.

Raider fans in The Black Hole via Wikipedia

NBA –Though the length of an NBA game is comparable to that of a soccer match and one could foresee standing for the duration of a match, I can’t see any NBA club giving away court side seats (maybe for Spike, he stands all game already) to standing only sections. Though at a visit to Madison Square Garden this past season I found an amazing concourse directly above our top level seats! Standing only areas could work in NBA, up in the rafters not court side.

MLB – Initially this is the toughest to envision. A baseball game takes so long – 3+ hours the baseball culture is to sit back, relax, eat a hotdog and drink a beer while chatting with you buddies or keeping score. Standing to watch baseball does not sound fun. Though the bleachers at Yankee Stadium are a particularly rowdy area where fans stand for much of the game and this might provide a viable location for standing areas.

So surprisingly, the standing option terrace seems to find a nice place in American stadiums. What it definitely indicates is that modern stadia need to continue to address and reevaluate the varied and sometimes divergent needs of sports fans. With an increasingly diverse population of supporters, a simple seat to watch the game might not be enough, flexibility for both the fan and club is critical going forward.

Regardless, the terrace remains a bit of an enigma, a seating type with a tumultuous past, with passionate proponents and perhaps poised for an exciting comeback – to be discussed the next time you are at a stadium, sitting or standing.