After more criticism from away fans visiting St James Park, surely 2017 has to be the year safe standing takes the giant leap forward to be top of the agenda.
As someone who watches the Toon on a regular basis and who makes the odd visit to Glasgow as well as regular trips in Europe since the early 80s, as far and wide as Mexico city to Moldova, I do like to think I am being reasonable when I say I don’t think our football organisations look at what’s happening across Europe to improve the game on our shores (too busy making money via TV rights).
I have to put my hands up first of all and be honest and say, at my age and my joint issues, safe standing is not for me personally – but that doesn’t mean it’s not right for everyone to have that option when deciding whether to sit or stand at a game.
My most recent visit to the east end of Glasgow with my 21 year old found ourselves in the safe standing section at Celtic Park. We saw at first hand a little bit of how it works and feels to be part of an area of the ground with fans who had the freedom to move about, sing, jump, wave flags during the game. With large participation at the front congregating to create the main noise, with most of the others at the back joining in as well.
To the diehard older fans, standing to watch football doesn’t really need explaining as we have all done it and were brought up with the Leazes then Gallowgate end, all the way through to the implementation of the Taylor report.
However, nowadays these new rail seating sections at the top-level of football have to be safety first and we fans are still having to convince the authorities that these can work. The fans in that section at Celtic Park (the first in the UK) appear to be making it work and its aim is to bring back the noise. It may also help to protect the premier league product at a time when those decision makers have openly expressed a concern in recent seasons that the lack of away fans and noise is a real worry. After all, we all know football without fans is nothing.
Behind the scenes at Celtic Park was always going to be important as this is the invisible side of the football experience which often goes without any attention. I know fine well having nearly been injured at the likes of Forest away last month and Palace away on a few occasions, just trying to get a simple beer at half time.
The organisation however at Celtic Park, with access and exit points to the rail seating areas had plenty stewards who were checking season cards and who were clearly visible, whilst most fans still stood where their designated standing space was. Like the Bundesliga and Serie A, the choirmaster at the front led the singing the non-stop noise for 90 minutes. Which as we know because we have done it enough over the decades, can impact on a teams performances. I also did not once see any police apart from the usual pitch side bobbies.
To me, Newcastle United always looks slow to lead the way and now appears to be falling behind many clubs off the pitch, with more stadiums becoming bigger than St James Park, so let’s not fall behind anymore please Mr Ashley, when it comes to the match day experience and atmosphere.
Things just haven’t been the same since we lost our singing section on level 7, since then I have witnessed many instances where I been embarrassed that we have been out sung by away fans, which in my 45 years of going to NE1 never ever used happened until level 7 got the chop .
It has to be said of course that our away fans are the best in England and the other stadiums are now like libraries every other week, however, on the other hand, you only have to watch any Bundesliga game and there are thousands of fans participating in an organised and orderly noise – at the same time staying on side with the authorities.
It’s true that admission prices are very affordable in Germany which helps, plus they have supporter liaison officers who are the critical link between the club and their fans. To me this is a key ingredient of working successfully together.
Currently, all praise to Gallowgate flags for making a massive effort to add colour and encourage more supporter participation but this is only before kick-off.
With standing sections you also don’t feel so bad leaving your seat every for a burger/cuppa/toilet break as the additional space allows for you not to inconvenience fellow fans as when you are seated. Plus at this time of year it’s also much easier to keep warm standing up and being able to jump up and down or in many safe standing areas do some lateral movements which appear to be popular amongst the new type of young ultra fans.
The recent news of Premier League clubs at last starting to discuss the safe standing issue at a recent meeting is finally a first small step – coming after years of the likes of the FSF backing this type of rail safe seating scheme.
It would be great to see Newcastle United having a leading part to play in the coming seasons and even offer to be a guinea pig to trial safe standing in England.
Just imagine at St James Park having a safe standing corner, or even better, sections behind both goals in the lower tiers.
Newcastle United have fans inside Newcastle City Council so let’s get it together Ashley and Charnley and get ahead of the opposition. Let’s get stuck into the safety, technical and legislative issues and get this trial to St James Park.