Football/Soccer

Kenny Archer: Standing up for better soccer atmospheres

The old Kop terrace at Anfield during Liverpool’s match against Norwich City in April 1994 – the final game before it was transformed into a seated stand 

CLACK! CLACK! CLACK! CLACK! CLACK!

BANG! BANG! BANG! BANG! BANG!

Anyone who tells you major English soccer stadia are quiet places nowadays is only partly right.

The noise of seats flying up and hitting the concrete behind punctuates every match, as spectators stand up and strain to see some dramatic action.

Such moments provide a significant part of the atmosphere in what have become increasingly sterile environments.

It's close to a quarter-century since I last stood on the Kop at Anfield – legally, at least.

Yet on every visit to that part of the ground since then I've still been watching the action while on my feet, along with thousands of others, even though we really weren't supposed to be.

There are similar scenarios at most, if not all, of the 'all-seater' stadia in England.

Technically all supporters should be sitting down, even when exciting moments in the match make you want to get to your feet.

The fact that most spectators do largely stay seated has undoubtedly diminished atmospheres over the last 24 years.

But many still do want to get to their feet or be on their feet throughout matches.

So it's disappointing that the British sports minister Tracey Crouch has rejected a proposal for a safe standing pilot scheme from West Bromwich Albion.

I've been to a few Merseyside derbies, but I remember one in March 1994 more clearly than most.

The Evertonians clumped over to the left of the Kop still hadn't stopped celebrating their opening goal, from former Red Dave Watson, when their derby scourge, Ian Rush netted an equaliser. With 'God' on their side, Liverpool were bound to win, and Robbie Fowler duly scored what proved to be the winner.

Both home goals went into the nets in front of us, but the reason the game sticks in my sieve-like mind is that this was the last derby in front of the standing Kop, and I was lucky enough to get tickets for that end.

Everyone knew that something was going from the game with the replacement of terraces, especially one as famous and iconic as Liverpool's Kop.

The change was accepted, though, especially at Anfield, as a consequence of the Taylor Report recommendations following the Hillsborough Disaster.

The cause of those 96 deaths wasn't terracing, it was terrible policing and the presence of fences, locked fences. Too many supporters forced into far too small a space, with no easy means of escape from the crush.

Yet people were reluctantly prepared to accept the change to all-seater grounds for the top two divisions in England in the interests of greater spectator safety and comfort.

Standing wasn't always safe, admittedly, and certainly it was often uncomfortable.

Despite the historic nature of that 1994 derby, the Kop that day was not as raucous as on an earlier visit of mine to Anfield, in November 1991.

It was only a Uefa Cup second round game, against unheralded French side Auxerre, and Liverpool had lost the first leg 2-0, but 'Rushie' appealed for support and it came, including me. Or so it seemed anyway.

The internet tells me there were just over 23,000 inside Anfield that night; almost all of them must have been on the Kop.

When the Reds won an early penalty at the far end, the crowd surge took me at least 20 yards away from my original standing position, having barely managed to stay on my feet as I was buffeted forward and across. It was exciting, admittedly, but a little worrying at the same time.

Unlike modern-day footballers, despite all the contact I was desperate and determined to stay on my feet. My shouts of 'We haven't even scored it yet!' did nothing to stop supporters surging forwards and sideways in joy.

Jan Molby netted the spot kick, of course. We witnessed Mike Marsh heading in the second goal at the Anfield Road end inside the half hour.

But the late winner at the Kop end? Well, I saw Mark Walters shooting from around the edge of the box – and that was the last I saw of the ball. I only knew it had hit the net because of the roar from the crowd reverberating around me.

I only found the friends I went to the game with some time after the final whistle.

Standing on a packed terrace was never the best viewing experience, but it did make for great atmospheres.

And as atmospheres have got worse at many major grounds, so the call for a return of standing sections has grown in recent years.

Clearly that has been an emotive issue, with respect required for the sensitivities of the Hillsborough families, but there is a sense that it's time for officially sanctioned standing to return.

Some Liverpool supporters were recently welcomed to the rail seating section at Celtic Park, which can accommodate standing for domestic games, and were impressed by the experience and the atmosphere.

Bringing back standing areas would be both positive and realistic, accepting what happens - in certain sections of grounds, fans stand throughout the game anyway – and improving atmospheres.

With the appropriate facilities in place, fans can stand safely. It's insulting to suggest otherwise.

Besides, as West Brom pointed out, persistent standing in seated areas can actually present safety issues, at the very least pose problems for children, shorter people, those with mobility issues, or those who just prefer to sit.

That's why safe standing areas are a sensible solution.

Safety of spectators is paramount, of course, but those who want to stand, or most of them anyway, can be accommodated, without inconveniencing others.

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