Stand And Deliver

Jungle1

That close season, the Jungle was turned into an all seater stand. While both ends remained standing through the 1993-94 season, that only lasted one more year as changes elsewhere in the club eventually resulted in the demolition of the Jungle and both ends. The 1994-95 season was played at Hampden (where I got to experience my second Celtic match) and when we returned in 1995 the Jungle has been replaced by the North Stand. That was followed by the Lisbon Lions and Jock Stein stands, all of which are still in place today.

 

Standing at football is something which has been all but wiped out thanks to the Taylor Report. The seats in the Jungle were a poor reaction to that report as the old board tried to come up with some kind of solution to the requirement for all seater stadia that the report had recommended and the league had decided to enforce.

Here’s my problem with the Taylor Report though. The implementation of it is WRONG.

The Taylor Report, or more accurately The Hillsborough Stadium Disaster Inquiry Report conducted by Lord Taylor of Gosforth, came up with many changes after those tragic events of April 15th 1989. The biggest of those was the suggestion that stadiums should be all seater. But that wasn’t the problem at Hillsborough that fateful day. The problem was the over-crowding of areas.

The report itself states that standing at football is “not intrinsically unsafe”, clearly recognising that those awful events had nothing to do with the fact the crowd were standing. Nevertheless, the governing bodies decided that the easiest way to prevent over-crowding was to ensure a “one ticket, one seat” policy and that is what we have been left with across the country. To this day the top division in Scotland and the top two divisions in England require teams to have an all seater stadium.

In the years that followed the regeneration of Celtic Park, I’ve been to many grounds across the country and been able to compare the experience. I don’t think I’ve ever been to Ibrox or Pittodrie and actually sat down. I used to go to Rugby Park and Easter Road and sit down, but that seems to have fallen out of fashion recently too. The whole away support stand throughout the 90 minutes, and it kind of annoys me. Not because we’re standing, but because the act of standing is usually impeded by the presence of an unused seat at the back of my knees. In Pittodrie’s case it’s just awkward to stand because the seats have been stuck onto what used to be terracing, and the seats push you further towards the next step than you should otherwise be. You always feel like you’re teetering. It seems to me that the only real issue with safety currently is the existence of the seat, not the fact that we are all standing!

Below our top division, the rules are more relaxed. When the SPL used to have a winter break, I’d take myself along to see the occasional First Division match. Brockville was generally my favoured ground to go to as it was fairly close to where I was living at the time. As some of you may remember it was a dilapidated dump of a ground. But at least you could stand on terracing for the full match and the atmosphere was brilliant. I’ve been to Falkirk’s new ground on the other side of the town since they moved there and it’s yet another soulless flat-pack wonder like so many others that have sprung up across the country over the years. If Barr Construction hadn’t done such wonderful work at Celtic Park I’d be constantly cursing their name for what they’ve done elsewhere.

Possibly the most interesting experience I’ve had though was in a stadium where the Taylor Report did not apply. I followed Celtic to Munich in 2003. Bayern were still playing in the Olympicstadion at the time – the Allianz Arena was still under construction and we actually passed it going to and from the airport – and I was able to see first hand what their set up was like.

The Bundasliga has a different rule from the UEFA’s tournaments which have more or less followed the same recommendations as the top leagues in the UK. So when Germany teams play in Europe, they need seats. When they play in the German League however, they don’t. So they’ve come up with a novel solution – removable seats. As it was a Champions League game I was attending, the seats were there… but no one was using them. Well, the drunk guy sleeping next to me was using his, but the rest of us were standing. Amusingly, the removal seat set up involves a bracket behind the row of seats. Or to put that another way, the row behind you has a barrier that people in that row can lean on!

So why don’t we do that in Scotland? We’ll still need the seats for European competition, so we need an option. The Germans have been doing it for years now – so long in fact that the stadium I saw it in is now out-of-date and no longer used!

To say it’s not safe is a fallacy, and Lord Taylor recognised that 20 years ago. Today we see evidence of fans standing throughout matches despite the seats being in place. When the whole group do it, there’s no amount of policing or stewarding can force everyone to sit down. Well, I say that, but then there has been evidence of them trying their best with the Green Brigade. Funny, they don’t seem to try it with the 7,000 Rangers fans when they turn up at Celtic Park in another corner of the stadium. It appears that one section at Celtic Park is just small enough to bother about but anything more and they don’t even attempt to intervene.

Clearly then, the answer to the problem of standing is for everyone to stand. But that will only encourage the wrath of Safety Teams who get above their station and decide that closing the stand or even the stadium is the answer to that defiance. Not to mention there are people at the football who just don’t want to stand. But that was the case back in May 1993 – the main stand had seats in it that day when the rest of the stadium was standing.

There is no good reason not to have standing at the football. If correctly ticketed, there can be no over-crowding. It’s not like the turnstiles allow you to lift people over any more. That’s probably one change from the Taylor report that I agree with. Not only will people get to stand once more, but they’ll also be able to gather with their friends in their assigned “area” of the ground – something which has been increasingly lost in the all-seater era. Maybe even more importantly, people will be able to move away from that annoying moaner behind them who never seems to see the good in anything the team do. Or maybe just the loud mouth who insists on shouting abuse at the referee in every game. Sorry, that last one is definitely me if you sit anywhere near me!

If you can stand safely and there’s an option to sit for those that don’t want to stand, I fail to understand why this is even a debate. There should be standing at football already. Yet the Celtic AGM had a resolution encouraging the board to conduct a feasibility study into the creation of a standing section. It’s the quiet resolution, the one that’s sneaking by without much comment given all the other concerns at the club currently. To be fair to the club, they say they are already doing just that and that the resolution is pretty pointless, and they should be commended for that – although one wonders why this resolution got through without someone at Celtic saying at some point “oh we’re already doing that”.

But still, why are we still only at the feasibility study stage 22 years after Hillsborough, 16 years after the reopening of Celtic Park, 8 years after another visit to Germany for Celtic fans and more than a year after the Green Brigade have proven beyond doubt the worth and enjoyment of standing?

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