The Last Word: As painful as Hillsborough remains, it’s time to reclaim lost spirit of the terraces

A lot has changed in football since the 1980s and the game has thrived

We have reflected once again this week on the legacies of Hillsborough a year after an independent panel exposed a top-level cover-up over England’s worst stadium disaster.

Unfortunately for the families of the 96 Liverpool fans who died at that fateful FA Cup semi-final in April 1989, the painstaking inquiry into alleged police misconduct is stymied in inaction or, at the very best, inertia.

While the relatives of the victims cannot move on without the requisite justice, the tragedy is also holding back a wider debate about safe standing.

The very notion of any reintroduction of standing is abhorrent to those directly affected by Hillsborough and this is understandable. It is a highly emotive issue. But we are not talking about a wholesale return to the bad old days when unregulated terraces allowed pockets of hooliganism to fester like sores on the game. The safe standing lobby, spearheaded by the Football Supporters’ Federation (FSF), is targeting 10 to 20 per cent of capacity at most.

The campaign, which is growing in momentum and could soon be introduced at Celtic after the Scottish Premier League sanctioned pilot schemes, is at its most basic a consumer-driven response.

Not all fans want to watch football the same way. Clubs are not serving the needs of all their customers if they insist everyone sits still for 90 minutes when a small, but significant, number would prefer to stand, sing and shout. It’s just bad business.

The truth is that many fans are out of their seats for large parts of the match anyway. “Persistent standing” is the bane of stewards’ lives up and down the country. Some clubs are more successful at policing it than others. Some have just accepted it as a fact of life. Cardiff City’s “singing sections” are an acknowledgement that standing is tolerated in designated areas despite the fact it is officially forbidden. Since 1994, following a change in legislation in response to Hillsborough and the subsequent Taylor Report, all clubs in the Premier League and the Championship must have all-seater stadiums.

It is not illegal for spectators to stand but, under a civil contract they effectively sign by buying a ticket, they can be thrown out. At Cardiff, they aren’t. It is a stance supported by the council after a club-commissioned study by Dr Steve Frosdick, an expert in crowd dynamics, concluded it would not compromise safety and might even improve it.

It would be an interesting test case if the Sports Ground Safety Authority (SGSA), a quango, challenged Cardiff’s interpretation of the law. Equally, if the SGSA lets it slide, it sets a precedent for others such as Aston Villa, Hull City, Sunderland, Swansea and Crystal Palace, the only other Premier League clubs to publicly back the FSF’s safe standing campaign.

As English football fans gaze enviously at Germany, where ticket prices are lower, atmospheres feel less corporate and the national team does not continually disappoint, it has not gone unnoticed that safe standing is a prominent feature.

Rail seats, which flip up for domestic games and lock down to comply with rules in the Champions League, are a popular innovation. Why not try them here?

Cardiff’s experiment has not resulted in more disorderly behaviour, a commonly cited counter-argument. The club earned the title of most family-friendly in the Football League last season.

As Superintendent Steven Graham, match day commander at the West Midlands Police and a proponent of safe standing, said: “If you put a decent person on a terrace, they’re a decent person. If you put someone with criminal intent in a seated area, they’re someone with criminal intent... To say that just because you put someone in a standing area, they will misbehave, is fundamentally wrong.”

In the long shadow cast by Hillsborough, it would be a brave government that amended the law only to have a major incident. Hugh Robertson, the sports minister, backed by the English leagues, prefers the status quo while pointing out that seated stadiums have improved the overall fan experience.

A lot has changed in football since the 1980s, however, and the game has thrived as a result. Resisting calls for safe standing trials runs contrary to the Premier League’s evolutionary ethos, which has underpinned its success.

There is an opportunity to reclaim the disenfranchised by reinventing some of the lost spirit of the terraces, minus the criminality, and democratising the match-day experience through increased capacity and lower prices. The memories of Hillsborough, as awful as they are, should not stand in the way of progress.

Voices
A Russian hunter at the Medved bear-hunting lodge in Siberia
Save the tigerWildlife charities turn to those who kill animals to help save them
News
Davis says: 'My career has been about filling a niche - there were fewer short actors and fewer roles – but now I'm being offered all kinds of things'
PeopleWarwick Davis on Ricky Gervais, Harry Potter and his perfect role
News
i100
Sport
Frank Lampard will pass Billy Wright and equal Bobby Charton’s caps tally of 106 caps against
sportFormer Chelsea midfielder in Etihad stopgap before New York contract
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
The first film introduced Daniel Radcliffe to our screens, pictured here as he prepares to board the train to Hogwarts for the first time.
booksHow reading Harry Potter helps children grow up to be gay-friendly
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Aladdin is performed at the Tony Awards in New York in June
theatreBrit producer Lythgoe makes kids' musical comedy a Los Angeles hit
Sport
Usain Bolt of Jamaica smiles and shakes hands with a competitor after Jamaica won their first heat in the men's 4x100m relay
sport
News
Chancellor George Osborne, along with the Prime Minister, have been 'complacently claiming the economy is now fixed', according to shadow Chancellor Ed Balls
i100... which is awkward, because he is their boss, after all
Life and Style
A small bag of the drug Ecstasy
Health
Life and Style
Floral-print swim shorts, £26, by Topman, topman.com; sunglasses, £215, by Paul Smith, mpaulsmith.co.uk
FashionBag yourself the perfect pair
News
news
News
Netherlands' goalkeeper Tim Krul fails to make a save from Costa Rica's midfielder Celso Borges during a penalty shoot-out in the quarter-final between Netherlands and Costa Rica during the 2014 FIFA World Cup
newsGoalkeepers suffer from 'gambler’s fallacy' during shoot-outs
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmReview: A week late, Secret Cinema arrives as interactive screening goes Back to the Future
Extras
indybest
News
i100
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Save the Tiger: Meet the hunters tasked with protecting Russia's rare Amur tiger

Hunters protect Russia's rare Amur tiger

In an unusual move, wildlife charities have enlisted those who kill animals to help save them. Oliver Poole travels to Siberia to investigate
Transfers: How has your club fared in summer sales?

How has your club fared in summer sales?

Who have bagged the bargain buys and who have landed the giant turkeys
Warwick Davis: The British actor on Ricky Gervais, how the Harry Potter set became his office, and why he'd like to play a spy

'I'm a realist; I know how hard this business is'

Warwick Davis on Ricky Gervais, Harry Potter and his perfect role
The best swim shorts for men: Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer

The best swim shorts for men

Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer
Has Ukip’s Glastonbury branch really been possessed by the devil?

Has Ukip’s Glastonbury branch really been possessed by the devil?

Meet the couple blamed for bringing Lucifer into local politics
Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup