The shocking scenes in the Olympic Stadium mid-week have yet again, highlighted the safety epidemic surrounding West Ham’s new home. The cup game between the Hammers and Chelsea descended into anarchy after the two sets of fans managed to clash inside the ground as a result of poor stewarding and limited segregation. The whole evening, coupled with previous crowd trouble has once again brought the game into disrepute.
Numerous suggestions have been offered on how to counteract these issues. Ideas range all the way from stricter security regulations to outing West Ham United from the ground altogether, but could there be an alternative solution? For years, the debate has raged on as to whether standing can legitimately be brought back into Premier League football stadia, after the horrors that plagued English football in the 1980’s. If one was to make a decision based on the socio-political context, the ship for standing has well and truly sailed, however, the modern Continental game would suggest otherwise.
The German safe-standing model for one has provided proven, sustainable success that standing area’s in modern-day stadia not only work, but flourish. Clubs such as Borussia Dortmund and Hannover 96 have shown its effectiveness both in increasing capacity, and atmosphere. The decision carries even more weight when you consider one of the main concerns levelled at West Ham, is their inability to keep their fans seated. The steep rise of their stand, combined with the shallow seating creates a clear safety hazard.
Of course, it’s difficult to compare such models across countries given the historical connotations in England compared to those abroad, yet one has to consider the evolution of the game since the so-called ‘dark ages’. Every week fans stand uncontrollably across Premier League stadiums, and stewards are powerless to stop it. I’m not suggesting all football fans should stand, but the implementation of safe-standing areas would at least allow the modern day fan to stand and avidly support their chosen club in a much safer environment. It also provides a clear separation between various categories of fandom, where ‘family safe’ seating areas of the ground would be well away from the potentially raucous ‘ultras’.
North of the border, Celtic are showing safe-standing can work in British grounds, with trial areas providing further evidence of success. The government have said the issue will be ‘re-assessed’ after Celtic’s trial period is complete, however, campaigns against the notions of a re-introduction will no doubt be very strong. It’s an incredibly sensitive debate for many, but with concrete proof of a safe-standing model that works in the modern game, it may just be the answer West Ham have been looking for.