How safe standing transformed the match-day experience at Celtic

Celtic fans in the the safe standing area. Picture: SNS
Celtic fans in the the safe standing area. Picture: SNS
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The issue of safe standing at football grounds in England is back in the news, with an increasing number of clubs showing an interest in exploring the idea.

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This week League One side Shrewsbury Town became the first English club to apply to incorporate safe standing within their Greenhous Meadow ground. The hope is that rail seats will be fitted into one stand by the end of the season. They are not, however, the first club in Britain to do so.

Celtic piloted the project last season in the corner section straddling the Lisbon Lions and North stands, to much success.

“Its been an extremely well-run project by the club and in my experience there has been no issues,” Celtic fan Paul McKenna, who stands in the section, tells the i. “Only lots of positives.

“You even lose weight over a season as you’re up and about and being active for 90 minutes,” he jokes.

The Scottish champions worked hard to obtain a safe-standing licence from Glasgow City Council for the 2,900 capacity section, and strenuous negotiations took place between the club and Police Scotland. But few, if any, incidents of note have taken place.

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One space per supporter

There have been no concerns regarding safety, with a one-supporter-to-one space ratio, compared to the Bundesliga’s 1.5-to-1.

“There’s plenty of space”, says 24-year-old Celtic fan Liam Dunn, who moved from the North Stand Upper to the safe standing. “It never felt unsafe in any way.

“We stand in the same bit every game, you are allocated a ‘space number’. You could easily shift but might be in someone else’s space.

“There’s young kids, pensioners and everything in between. Everyone seems to enjoy it.”

Standing sections, or terracing, has been banned in the top two tiers of England since 1994. This was mainly a result of the Hillsborough disaster, which cost the lives of 96 fans, and prompted sweeping changes via the Taylor Report. While the report found that police control was the main reason for the tragedy, it recommended that stadiums become all-seater by 1994.

Now, nearly 30 years later fans are eager for a return – despite the Hillsborough Support Group labelling the move a “backwards step” last year. While understandable, further revelations in the Hillsborough inquest have shed light on the extent of the South Yorkshire Police negligence.

Both Dunn and McKenna have empathy, but have experienced first-hand just how accommodating and secure the new infrastructure is.

McKenna explains: “We as Celtic supporters, obviously, are very mindful and respectful to the victims of the Hillsborough disaster but this is a modernised version of standing, and it’s completely safe.

“I look forward to it being extended around Celtic Park in the near future. It’s not like the old days with cramped conditions for supporters.

“The season cards are different colours from the rest of the ground to allow stewards to identify supporters in that area.”

Dunn adds: “My advice would be to do what Celtic have done and trial an area.

“The Celtic board fought for this for years and are still monitoring the situation closely. We are a trial for the rest of Scotland, and probably the UK, so I think there is a determination to make it work.

“It’s required a lot of supporter-club engagement but it seems to be positive and has worked. If supporters are determined to stand then it’s the club’s duty to provide an environment in which it’s safe to do so.”

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A better atmosphere

One of the reasons people are so in favour of the return to standing is to help enliven the match-day atmosphere, and a bugbear of fans up and down the country is the perceived sterilisation of the modern game.

In the English top-flight there is a sense that the day-trippers and tourists who just want to ‘be seen’ at a Premier League game have contributed to this.

And sitting down can seem to affect behaviour. Moaning, groaning and booing have replaced, singing, shouting and engaging.

Celtic’s introduction of the rail seating has coincided with Brendan Rodgers’ appointment, culminating in an unbeaten domestic season and treble. So it’s hard to judge just how much impact the safe-standing section has on the atmosphere. But the general feeling is that it has fostered a greater connection between supporters and the team, and it has allowed for the club’s main ‘ultra’ group, the Green Brigade, to lead chants, routine and choreography.

“It’s night and day, atmosphere-wise,” Dunn acknowledges. “It’s more involved.

“Clearly the Green Brigade orchestrate the chants, songs and displays, but I feel the ‘match involvement’ atmosphere is much better – cheering some skill, abuse following a dodgy tackle or referee decision.

“They have been carrying the atmosphere in Celtic Park for a good few years now. They now have an extra thousand or so joining in. I feel like everyone is enjoying the game more.”

McKenna notes: “The atmosphere at Celtic park pre-Green Brigade always used to be quite flat at league games – the stadium would only really ever come alive for big European games in the Champions League.

“With the introduction of the rail seating the atmosphere at all games has been something special and we have a team on the park too that’s doing the business with a very good manager.

“The standing section aids that in terms of the colour and noise,” he continues. “When you have a team doing so well on the park and a fan base doing all types of innovative things off the park, then it can only help.

“It’s much better to stand in my opinion – your body is already up and ready for any action, and it creates a buzz around not only that section but the rest of the stadium too.”

And for Dunn, whose interest in the standing section was piqued by his experience standing at Scotland games, there is “no chance” of going back to sitting.

“My Dad’s a Patrick Thistle fan and I went to one of their home games towards the end of the season. You really miss the standing, the involvement you get from it,” he says.

“I try to get West Stand tickets for Scotland games (where everyone stands) so it’s pretty rare I have to sit now. It wouldn’t be the same.”

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