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Stand up for seating: why all-seated football stadia should be reconsidered

Rail Seating Ashton Gate
Thursday, 09 October 2014 By Marcus Keppel-Palmer

In response to the Hillsborough disaster, English Law developed a requirement for all-seated accommodation in football stadia. Nowadays, gone are the big terraces, a mass of humanity chanting and swaying together typified by the Kop, the Holte End and others. Memories of these now seem to be sepia tinged. And yet there has not been eradication in the psyche of the football fan of the primal desire to stand up to watch, particularly when the action is nearby, goalmouth located or just of the type to engage the emotions. One had only to see the reaction of the Leicester City fans to scoring in their first game back in the Premier League, standing together, jumping up and down in joy, their backs to the pitch.

At the time of writing, the renewed inquest into the events at Hillsborough is taking place in Warrington, trying finally to get to the facts in what was and remains a tragedy that defined how football fans in England and Wales and indeed further afield view the “beautiful game”. This article is not an examination of the tragedy, although it does look at the recommendations made in the Taylor Report (below) and lessons learned from the tragic events of that day.


A movement to reintroduce standing in England and Wales

There is a movement now to reintroduce standing into grounds.1Rail seating” (see the title picture above – left side – by way of example2) that can be locked into an upright position such that the space it occupied can then be used as “safe standing” area (see title picture above – right side) is already in place in a number of Bundesliga grounds and elsewhere in Europe.3 Attempts are now being made to introduce rail seating into stadia in England and Wales. In 2010, a private members Bill to introduce safe standing was presented to Parliament, but the Bill ran out of Parliamentary time4. Celtic FC has endeavoured to introduce rail seating into Parkhead, although at present the Safety Advisory Group on Glasgow City Council has not given permission for the club to go ahead.5 The Liberal Democrats have announced that an introduction of safe standing at stadia will be a pledge in their manifesto for the 2015 General Election.6


Case study: Ashton Gate Stadium

For a Senior Lecturer at the University of the West of England, Bristol City F.C. is one of the local league clubs and Bristol Rugby is one of the local professional rugby clubs. Ashton Gate Stadium7 has been the home of Bristol City for some 100 years and more, but as of the new season it has become home to Bristol Rugby as well. The latter have been playing at the Memorial Stadium (the ‘Mem’), which they share with Bristol Rovers F.C. That ground has a capacity of around 12,000, including standing accommodation for some 10,000 spectators. Proposals to relocate Bristol Rovers to a new stadium, together with a change of ownership, have meant Bristol Rugby seeking a new ‘home’ for this season.

Thereby lies the rub. Ashton Gate is an all-seated stadium, designated as such under the Football Spectators (Seating) Order 1994when Bristol City was a team in the top two tiers of English football. Bristol Rovers, on the other hand, have not been in the top two tiers of English football since relegation in the 1992/93 season, and only moved to the Mem in 19969. Accordingly, it has never been a stadium designated under the Football Spectators Act 1989 as one requiring an all-seated status.

In order to provide Bristol Rugby’s supporters with the continued opportunity to stand in appropriately configured areas of Ashton Gate, the intention is to redevelop two areas of the ground and fit them with rail seats. These will provide the rugby fans who wish to stand with a robust waist-high rail along every individual row, which will clearly be safer than standing behind a conventional low-backed seat or even, it could be argued, than standing on the relatively open terracing that they have been used to up till now at the Mem.

The key questions

  1. Would the installation of rail seating at football stadia comply with current legislation?
  2. If installed, could rail seating be locked-up and used as safe standing area and comply with current legislation?
  3. Are there grounds for arguing for a reintroduction of standing at top-flight football in England and Wales?

In this article, the author examines the Taylor Report that led to the introduction of all-seated stadia (and look at the purposes behind the report); the existing legislation; and considers whether or not rail seating could be installed in top tier English football stadia.


The Taylor Report

The Taylor Report10 was prepared following the events that occurred at Hillsborough during the semi -final of the FA Cup 1989, events so well known that they do not need to be revisited. In his final Report, Taylor LJ set out comprehensively the failings of football in the late 1980s11: hooliganism, uncovered standing; segregation; cost of policing; old dilapidated grounds; litter; poor refreshments; lack of pre-match entertainment; complacency and lack of leadership. As the following quote illustrates, the primary evidence to the Taylor Inquiry linked crowd behaviour with inadequate ground facilities:

The picture revealed is of a general malaise or blight over the game due to a number of factors. Principally these are: old grounds, poor facilities, hooliganism, excessive drinking and poor leadership. Crowd safety and crowd behaviour with which I am concerned are closely related to the quality of the accommodation and facilities offered and to the standards which are encouraged and enforced. So I think it necessary to consider all these aspects.12

The reasons for recommending all seated stadia

Taylor LJ and his two assessors visited 31 grounds before compiling the Report (including 7 that were not used for football) and noted that 58 grounds then in current use dated back to construction around the start of the 20th Century. It was in that context that Taylor LJ recommended all-seated stadia. However, the recommendation was not in itself primarily focussed on safety, but rather offered as a solution to the prevailing low level facilities at all football stadia, as illustrated by the following quote:

Football spectators are invited by the clubs for entertainment and enjoyment. Often, however, the facilities provided for them have been lamentable. Apart from the discomfort of standing on a terrace exposed to the elements, the ordinary provisions to be expected at a place of entertainment are sometimes not merely basic but squalid. At some grounds the lavatories are primitive in design, poorly maintained and inadequate in number. This not only denies the spectator an essential facility he is entitled to expect. It directly lowers standards of conduct.13

A focus on modernisation and safety

Taylor LJ was of the opinion that a requirement for all-seated stadia would force a change of attitude among those running the game to ensure that spectator safety and overcrowding would be put front and centre. Spectator behaviour would improve, he theorised, if spectator comfort was increased; spectator comfort would increase if grounds were modernised; and, grounds would only be modernised if clubs would be forced to modernise them by implementing a requirement for all-seated accommodation. Eliminating terracing and replacing them with seats was the strategy.

But Taylor LJ stated in the Report that all-seated stadia were not in itself the only answer, it was the answer that was most appropriate at the time of the Report, given the atmosphere and culture then prevailing in football.

There is no panacea which will achieve total safety and cure all problems of behaviour and crowd control. But I am satisfied that seating does more to achieve those objectives than any other single measure.14

The reasons for this, posited Taylor LJ, were:

  1. Each spectator has “his own small piece of territory in which he can feel reasonably secure15, in which the spectator would not be jostled.
  2. Each spectator would not be “subject to pressure of numbers behind or around him during the match16
  3. Each spectator would not be “painfully bent double over a crush barrier.17

Taylor LJ also concluded that seating had distinct advantages in terms of crowd control, with CCTV able to pinpoint seats and thus police could identify who troublemakers were18. Crowd density problems would be controlled by each spectator having a seat, and the eradication of terraces would effectively eliminate ”involuntary and uncontrolled crowd movements occasioned by incidents in the game19.

Standing of itself not outlawed

However, the Taylor Report tacitly acknowledged that standing was not to be outlawed of itself:

It is true that at moments of excitement seated spectators do, and may be expected to, rise from their seats.20 (Emphasis added).

At the time and in the social, cultural and architectural conditions then prevailing, all-seated stadia were the most viable solution.

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Written by

Marcus Keppel-Palmer

Marcus Keppel-Palmer

Formerly a Solicitor and Partner with Hill Dickinson, Marcus Keppel-Palmer is a Senior Lecturer in Law at the University of the West of England, Bristol. Marcus lectures in the fields of Media, Entertainment and Sports Law.

Marcus lectures particularly on intellectual property in sport, anti-doping, discrimination in sport, and sports stadia.

Marcus is also a civil and commercial mediator.

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