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Political Barriers To The Return Of Terracing

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The Football Supporters Federation (FSF) launched a campaign at the end of March to reinstate terraces to top-flight football in England. They quoted a survey of their members that shows nine out of ten would be in favour of a return to standing. Liberal Democrat MP Don Foster has tabled a Private Member’s bill to allow clubs safe standing areas, which is due to be heard in parliament on June 17. Is the atmosphere really better on terraces? The German model is the one most frequently advocated by those in favour of an English reintroduction. I recently watched a match from on Borussia Dortmund’s Sudplatz, the largest all-standing area in Europe and known as the "yellow wall". The terraces begin to fill up hours before kick-off. However during the game the crowd is exceptionally well mannered. There is pandemonium when the goals go in, but there is little aggression in evidence. The German stands also have barriers every couple of rows to ensure crushes do not develop and there is none of the jostling and surges that would propel you bodily from the rear of the crowd to the front, and back again. Certainly this is a far cry from my own memories of the Hotel End in Northampton’s old County Ground. The best reason given by the FSF or any other pro-standing campainger has to be simply that more fans will get to watch their team play – Dortmund sell out 80,000 every week, with very cheap standing tickets.

It is not the first time the reintroduction of terracing has been mooted. In 2000, the sports minister Kate Hoey, impressed by Hamburg’s Volparkstadion, tried to gain support for the idea, but it swiftly foundered. Current incumbent Hugh Robertson is not so sanguine – he was quoted in the media as saying that should the move backfire his "head would be on a spike on London Bridge" – while the Hillsborough victim family groups continue to oppose the move.

The Premier League refuses to back the campaign, with their spokesman stating that seating is "safer" and that all-seat stadiums have "encouraged more women and children to go to games". Cursory consideration gives these arguments little credence. The Taylor Report didn’t focus blame on the terraces themselves but on their state of repair and the management of the crowd; the number of women and children on Dortmund’s terraces suggests that it is something other than having a nice comfy seat that has encouraged them to watch. Perhaps the broader demographic and behavioural changes in football crowds might have something to do with it.

A cynic might argue that the League is more concerned with the revenue that it can squeeze out of all-seat stadiums. It cost €15 (£13) to watch the new German champions canter to a 3-0 victory over mid-table Freiburg, and despite the extra capacity allowed by standing zones, the numbers might not add up for the wealthier clubs. Additionally, of course, the clubs will have to pay in the first place for the conversion. So the two groups with the power to implement a change in the law have no vested interest in so doing – the Premier League sees no profit while the government sees a political risk. For everyone but the FSF and nine out of ten of their members, however, it seems to be a no-brainer.

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