In the immediate aftermath of the Hillsborough disaster in 1989, there was a rush to change English football and, whilst many of the changes that were introduced in the years following it were long overdue, some were smuggled through by speculators who recognised the ability to make a buck or two from football and were clued up enough to understand that perhaps football supporters weren’t spending quite as much money at matches as they could be. The Taylor Report suggested that all-seater stadia be introduced in the top two divisions, and by the time the Premier League began in 1992 many English football grounds were building sites as the concrete steps were replaced with shiny, tip-up seats. Whether this was necessary or even done entirely for the benefit of supporters has been something of a bone of contention ever since.
In the two intervening decades, much has changed. In Germany, safe standing areas have become commonplace, with terraced areas converted easily to seating for European matches which require stadia to be all-seated. In England, though, the rules remain the same. The top two divisions – the Premier League and the Championship – have to be all-seater, and clubs promoted into the Championship have three years in which to comply with these rules. All of this brings us to Scunthorpe United. Scunthorpe are now in their third season in the Championship, and as of the end of this season will have to convert the Doncaster Road End of their Glanford Park ground from a terrace to seating.
There are numerous reasons why this is a bad idea. As things stand, Glandford Park holds a shade over 9,000 people, but installing seats in the Doncaster Road end will cut the capacity of the ground to around 8,000 people and, whilst Scunthorpe’s current average home crowd is 5,600, it doesn’t take much to swell the crowd for home matches to over 8,000. As such, it seems likely that the installation of seats will mean that some have to miss out on their matches in the future. For a club that is fighting a constant uphill battle to keep its place in this particular division, this could have unwelcome financial ramifications – indeed, were gate receipts to fall overall, the club may even be tempted to sink into debt in order to try and maintain their position. Hardly an ideal state of affairs.
This isn’t the only aspect in which cost matters. The conversion of the Doncaster Road End would, of course, cost money, and this is a cost that would ultimately be passed onto the supporters through higher ticket prices. Still, though, the changes would cost money that the club would most likely have to borrow in order to carry out, and it’s not even as if Scunthorpe United FC itself even wants to install seats there. They have an impeccable safety record at Glanford Park in recent years, so the only way that this enforcement of the rules can be viewed is for the sake of the rules themselves. The Liberal Democrats passed a motion supporting safe standing areas and, although we have recently seen how much their electoral pledges have been seen to be worth, it would be encouraging to see them supporting changes to this law.
It’s also worth pointing out that there is a degree of arbitrariness about the law. For example, Peterborough United host average crowds of more than 2,000 more than Scunthorpe United at present, but they keep their terracing because they haven’t managed three successive years in the Championship. Port Vale’s Vale Park has a capacity of 19,052, more than twice that of Glanford Park, but it is not required to be all-seater either. If safety and crowd managements are so important, why should the dividing line be between the Championship and League One? If there has to be one, why there? The financial gulf between the top of those two divisions is great enough as it is, without layering more potential burden onto clubs promoted into that division.
It’s not even as if this law is absolutely set in stone. Cardiff City’s Ninian Park had so much terracing that the cut in capacity was deemed too great to justify forcing Cardiff to install seats, so an exemption was provided until they moved into their new ground. If an exemption can be provided for Cardiff, then surely something similar can be provided for Scunthorpe. Whilst the ultimate goal should continue to be to push for the option to be there for clubs to introduce safe standing areas should they wish – and it has to be added that most clubs would prefer to stay all-seater for a number of different reasons, so the idea of safe standing terraces springing up left, right and centre should the law be changed would remain remote even if the law were to be changed – it would be a start if there was a degree of consultation rather than a dismissive cry of “rules are rules” and the enforcement of rules that don’t appear, on the surface, to actually benefit anybody.
The Keep Scunthorpe Standing campaign is already supported by the Football Supporters Federation, and you can find out from the aforementioned link how can you can lend your support to it. The truth of the matter is that changing the law on safe standing wouldn’t harm anyone and would benefit some clubs. Those of us that spend times at grounds that are all-seater and at those with standing areas can already attest to the detrimental effect on the atmosphere that seating brings with it, and changes to the design of terracing mean that crowd management and safety issues do not have to be compromised in order to bring these changes about. It is time for this anachronistic and simplistic law to be changed.
Follow Twohundredpercent on Twitter here.