Jon Darch, who runs the Safe Standing Roadshow, looks at how standing is on the rise in the Bundesliga.
Last week I came across a piece of news from the Bundesliga that will make all supporters of safe standing green with envy! Officials at third-placed Bayer Leverkusen announced that they had listened to fans’ requests for more standing capacity at their BayArena ground, and would be removing seats from behind the goal to increase this by 50% during the close season.
“We’ve been repeatedly approached by supporters’ representatives saying that the demand for standing spaces is greater than we currently offer. Adding more standing capacity will also considerably enhance the atmosphere and the support for our team in the stadium,” said Bayer 04 chief executive Wolfgang Holzhäuser. A fans’ survey had shown that younger fans in particular were keen to add to the atmosphere from a standing area behind the goal. “We checked that this was structurally feasible and got the ‘green light’ for the new layout from the authorities,” explained Holzhäuser.
Isn’t it great to hear a club chief executive responding so positively to his supporters’ wishes! At Bayer Leverkusen a 50% increase in standing may only mean an extra 1,000 fans to take the total standing capacity in their 30,000-stadium to 3,000, but it is a big percentage increase all the same.
And that got me wondering. I recall back in 2007 the then sports minister, Richard Caborn, suggested that those of us who were campaigning for safe standing were out of sync with the times. Standing was somehow an anachronism. Franz Beckenbauer had told him, he said, that even in Germany the trend was to move away from standing. So was he right? Are we all out of step with the Bundesliga Zeitgeist? Are Bayer Leverkusen a weird exception? Let’s take a look, starting with Der Kaiser’s own club, Bayern Munich.
In partnership with poor relations 1860 Munich, they built the shiny new Allianz Arena around ten years ago, opening the doors in 2005. While they have always allowed around 13,000 fans to stand, this was initially behind conventional seats. The Bayern fans didn’t like that. They wanted a proper standing area. So the club listened. In 2006 they removed two blocks of seats from behind the goal at the home end to create just that. Six years later, i.e. just last year, they removed more seats for the same purpose (putting them all back in for Champions League games in order to comply with UEFA’s all-seater rule).
Moving down the current Bundesliga table we come to reigning champions Borussia Dortmund. Their hugely impressive ground was built for the 1974 World Cup. In the years that followed, Dortmund’s crowds outgrew the existing stadium and the ground was enlarged in stages to its current 81,264 capacity. In the process 10,000 standing spaces were added to the South Stand, aka ‘The Yellow Wall’. Using rail seats for this additional area, the development took the total capacity of that stand to 25,000, the largest single standing area in Europe.
In fact, of the current 18 top-flight teams a further 10 have added extra standing in the period since Borussia Dortmund added those extra 10,000 spaces to the Yellow Wall. VfB Stuttgart, for instance, added 5,165 standing spaces, in part using rail seats, when they redeveloped their Mercedes-Benz Arena in 2011; HSV in Hamburg added 3,000 spaces, also in part using rail seats, in 2010; at Fortuna Düsseldorf a promise to the fans that standing would be introduced into the multi-purpose Esprit Arena if the club gained promotion was kept and in 2010 seats were removed to provide standing for 9,917 fans. FSV Mainz 05 and TSG 1899 Hoffenheim's moves to new stadia meant respective increases in standing capacity of 23% and 366%, while 1. FC Nuremberg, Werder Bremen, SC Freiburg and SpVgg Greuther Fürth have all increased their standing capacity in recent seasons too.
Like us, the fans of Fortuna Düsseldorf campaigned long and hard for proper standing areas in their ground. Their 'Stonn op' campaign was ultimately successful because the powers that be in Düsseldorf, as at all the other clubs mentioned above, were prepared to listen to the supporters’ reasonable requests and like the CEO of Bayer Leverkusen could see the benefits provided by standing fans.
Contrary to what Mr Caborn professed several years ago, it is not a move towards all-seater grounds but a move towards ever-increased fan engagement and additional standing capacity that typifies the Bundesliga Zeitgeist of today.
As ever increasing numbers of Premier League and Football League clubs show their support for safe standing trials, let’s hope that administrators and politicians in this country soon come into sync with the spirit of the age.
Thanks to the Safe Standing Roadshow for the picture used in this blog