Salmon's soapbox: I predict safe standing areas will eventually arrive at English football grounds
It was an offer that I could not really refuse. A Liverpool supporting mate of mine offered me a ticket to stand with him on Anfield's iconic Kop in the early 1990s.
The game was a FA Cup replay between the Reds and Ipswich Town in 1992. For those of you with a good memory, Liverpool went on to win 3-2 with Jan Molby scoring a worldy of a free-kick in extra-time.
I’m not a Liverpool supporter, but as a football fan in general, a night sampling the Kop’s unique atmosphere was certainly on my bucket list of things to do.
It is a tale I have since recounted to my mates down the pub – and who knows maybe one day tell the grandkids. At the time, the Kop – a vast standing terrace – was world renowned and widely regarded as being Liverpool’s 12th man during the club’s halcyon days of the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s.
However, back in 1992, the iconic terracing was two years away from being demolished and converted into an all-seater stand on the recommendation of the Taylor Report, which had been produced in light of the Hillsborough Disaster.
Apart from Molby’s curler into the top corner, my abiding memory of the night is listening to the many songs and chants. However, there was one particular chant which I must admit caught me by surprise. ‘No seats, no seats, we want no seats,’ some Liverpool fans chanted at various points during the game in the direction of the club’s Board of Directors, who were of course making plans to fall in line with the Taylor Report.
It was clear that many of the Kop faithful did not want their iconic terracing – and the atmosphere which it generated – replaced by seats despite the fact that 96 of their own had so tragically perished in a human crush at Hillsborough just three years earlier in the worst disaster ever to occur at a British sporting event.
The Taylor Report did conclude that standing accommodation at grounds was not intrinsically unsafe.
And indeed, the main reason behind the Hillsborough Disaster was a loss of crowd control by the police.
Hand-on-heart, my night on the Kop was a hair-raising encounter. In the sea of bodies, I became separated from my friend and was pretty exhausted as I left Anfield after spending nearly two hours feeling squashed and unable to move of my own accord.
It was an experience that has shaped my opinion ever since – that all-seater stadiums; while not totally conducive to a game’s atmosphere; was the right move in the interests of health and safety of all spectators.
However, the possibility of being able to stand again at football games is back on the agenda. Earlier this month, West Bromwich Albion had a proposal to install safe standing area at the Hawthorns using rail seats rejected by the minister of sport Tracy Crouch.
Rail seats provide a barrier along every row making surges and crushes impossible.
They are a prominent feature in Germany’s Bundesliga and have been a fixture at Celtic Park since last season.
You can understand why the minister of sport turned down West Brom’s bid especially with the events of Hillsborough still casting a shadow over English football.
But football stadia design has moved on immeasurably from the old decaying terraces of old and I predict it won’t be long before fans will be able to stand to watch their club once more.