20 Years After Hillsborough: Is It Time to Reopen the Terraces?

Dan WadeSenior Analyst IApril 15, 2009

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - APRIL 11:  Liverpool fans display banners in reference to the Hillsborough disaster during the Barclays Premier League match between Liverpool and Blackburn at Anfield on April 11, 2009 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)

I have felt the passion of games that went from meaningless to sublime in a moment.

I have seen men who terrify small children by their very appearance weep as a player lies injured on the field or as their side walks dejectedly away from a bitter loss.

I have worried for my safety because of the actions of fans around me.

I have seriously contemplated inflicting gross physical harm on another member of a crowd.

I have attended sporting events in three countries and met fans from countless more.

But I have never seen the terraces.

Once one of the symbols of English football, no first-rate stadium in the world keeps their fans standing in pens. Indeed, you couldn’t find a standing room only ticket if you wanted to.

Kop End, Clock End, Stretford End, The Cottage, The Bridge, all of them have special significance to the home team.

While that fact hasn’t changed since the FA mandated that all stadia must have seats for everyone, many fans feel that a lot has been lost in terms of atmosphere, and in terms of accessibility.

All seat venues tend to have much higher ticket prices across the board than when half the stadium was for standing.

Having never been to a standing stadium, I can’t make that judgment.

However, I can say beyond a shadow of a doubt that the only atmosphere I’ve experienced that was better than cramming myself into The Gunner Pub in North London for the Arsenal-Tottenham match, was the Twins 2002 playoff game against the Oakland A’s.
It was their first home playoff game in 11 years, there were nearly 56,000 people in the stands, and yet, there was an intensity in that crowded pub that was missing from even a playoff atmosphere in the stadium.

Today is the anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster, an event few who did not witness it can comprehend. 96 people died, most by compressive asphyxia, when the crowd surged into already overly full pens.

It is true that had Hillsborough been an all-seater, the disaster wouldn’t have occurred. However, it is also true that had the start of the game been delayed, or if the police had actually acted to mitigate the disaster, the crush would not have been nearly the crisis it was. 

The Taylor report blamed the deaths on police action, namely the opening of Gate C, but as a secondary precaution proscribed seated venues and prohibited the sale of alcohol inside stadium grounds, despite Taylor’s assertion that alcohol was not a factor in the crush or in the aftermath.

The alcohol ban has stayed firmly in place, though the report indicates Taylor believed a time would come when it was no longer needed, but the prohibition of standing room areas in Premiership stadiums has been challenged multiple times.

As new stadia like The Emirates or Liverpool’s new Stanley Park Stadium increasingly price middle and lower-class fans out of attending matches, those cries will only get louder.

Standing terraces, even ones that afford comparatively poor views, would be a way for fans to go to matches without having to pay £60 or more per ticket.

New American stadia should consider this strategy as well.

American football teams are increasingly pricing fans out of the stadium, and if parks like Citi Field and New Yankee Stadium are indicative of things to come, baseball teams won’t be far behind.

Upper deck terraces would allow teams to continue to issue PSLs and build their obscene luxury suites, without isolating existing fans that can’t afford season tickets for two to four people.

We should be thankful that Hillsborough was the last of the truly massive stadium disasters in Europe, but that remembrance shouldn’t blind fans and decision-makers to the fact that safe standing is possible and would be good for both clubs and fans.

Like the eventual re-inclusion of English teams and fans to European competition after the Heysel disaster, it is time to reconsider the ban on standing terraces and pens for fans.

If implemented properly, there is no reason why this tradition can’t be reintroduced in Europe and successfully imported to the United States.


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