Sitting or standing? An away fan's dilemma

AA 4604643 HullCity

Stand up, sit down – clubs have to offer the choice. Hull City fan Rob Milner has followed his club for more than half-a-century. In recent seasons he’s seen a divide open between those who wish to stand and those who prefer to sit. Rob argues that football’s refusal to introduce both options has the most negative consequences for those who actually like to watch their games from a seat…

I have been attending football matches for more than 50 years, mostly at Boothferry Park and the KC Stadium, but also at many other grounds up and down the country. I also played around 400 games at a modest amateur level, so I believe I possess a reasonably well-rounded knowledge of the game, although I don’t expect to be applying for vacant manager posts, anytime soon.

Over this time, from a supporters’ point of view, little has changed in attitudes, but we have experienced big improvements to the facilities and surroundings. New, or substantially improved, stadiums are now very much in evidence and the majority of playing surfaces these days resemble a snooker table rather than the slithery mudflats of yesteryear.

Players’ skills may have improved, as have fitness levels, though I’m not convinced that the game is any more exciting than it used to be. About a year ago, I chatted to an elderly lady when Hull City entertained

Tottenham Hotspur. I asked if she was looking forward to the game and she then told me a story that has resonated with me since, and one which has prompted a lot of letter writing and campaigning, about the sitting or standing issue at football grounds.

Her story related to her inability to go to the game, and be expected to stand for the better part of two hours, because other fans located nearby, refused to take up their seats. Over the past 12 months I have accumulated a wealth of experience directly connected to this still thorny issue. What began as an exercise to determine why a large proportion of travelling fans prefer to stand, rather than take their seats, as the law requires, soon became more wide-ranging, as a series of social (or anti-social) observations.

Bizarrely, the law states that where seats are provided, they must be used [FSF note: This isn't exactly true. While the law states "Spectators shall only be admitted to watch a designated football match from seated accommodation" it doesn't enforce sitting, although local safety advisory groups can interpret things differently. Cardiff City manage standing fans in seated areas and you can stand in "moments of excitement". If you stand in a seated area, you might be breaking ground regulations, but you are not breaking the law. Although if the club asks you to leave because of persistent standing, and you refuse, you are breaking the law. Clear as mud]. However, rigorous application of the law could at times result in a greater risk to spectators’ safety, so, when a large number of fans decide to stand, the usual stance of the ground stewards is to tolerate it, and take no action.

If there are small pockets of standing fans this can usually be dealt with, so long as a majority wish to sit down. I’ve seen the positive effect of ‘people power’ on several occasions, and have personally encouraged fellow supporters, to sit down, including at Old Trafford and recently at the Britannia Stadium, where there appeared to be a spontaneous outbreak of sanity.

On the other hand, I’ve seen stewards verbally abused at St James’ Park, when many fans paid no attention to the ‘request’ notes left between seats and decided to remain standing. At Villa Park last season my grandson and myself relocated to seats lower down, where fans remained seated. At the same ground this season we were low enough to have no problem, until a few ‘stander-uppers’ arrived right on kick-off. On that occasion stewards invited them to re-locate further up to join their mates, a move which delighted us, and those seated nearby.

Fast forward to the King Power Stadium 14th March, and our party of three comprising my seven-year-old grandson, his dad, and me. Unfortunately our seats were quite high up, so I felt it might be a challenge to persuade everyone in front of us to sit down, once the game was underway.

Typically, half-a-dozen young men arrived to take up their places directly in front of us, just as the game started. It was apparent that they had used every spare minute at the bar. Nothing wrong with that, although it does create problems when fans are scrabbling around examining their tickets and deciding where they should be seated. It amazes me how many fans have problems finding the right row, let alone the right seat – even my grandson knows his alphabet. I reasoned that even with my silky negotiating skills, I would be attempting to push water up a hill, if I suggested to those in front that sitting down would be a good idea.

At half-time the boys departed, presumably to re-visit the bar, and my grandson looked at me, shook his head, and asked me why these guys in front of us appeared barely interested in the game, and just wanted to chant and swear all the time. I did my best to explain and said we would go down to speak to a steward and re-locate, if possible. However, there were no spare seats lower down and most fans were standing up anyway.

So, it was back up the gangway for another 45 minutes in the company of the ‘real’ fans.

Reading this back to myself, I realise some readers might draw the conclusion that I am a miserable old killjoy, out of step with the modern world. The latter could be partially true. Although my drinking habits these days are very limited, I have done my fair share of drinking over the past few decades, and I can swear like a trooper, but not in front of young children. You can still support your team without constantly shouting, although I do concede that the vociferous ones amongst the away fans must help encourage the team, but do they need to stand up all the time?

When you purchase tickets for an away game it is pot luck who is seated around you, and it is high time all clubs established a system by which those fans – older and with children, who wish to sit – can be separated from those who favour a different kind of football experience, a few drinks, a lot of ‘banter’ and chanting, while remaining standing.

I’m not planning any more away trips this season, and I’m thinking hard about whether to continue next season, unless this matter is resolved. All fans have a part to play in supporting their club, let’s get the job sorted, so we can all follow the games, in the type of environment we prefer and enjoy.

The FSF blog is the space to challenge perceived wisdom, entertain readers and inform our members. The views expressed are those of the author and they don't necessarily represent FSF policy and (pay attention journalists) shouldn't be attributed to the FSF.

Thanks to Action Images for the image used in this blog.