That heart-stopping event in April 1989 lingers like a Kennedy moment for my generation. Hillsborough was a disaster waiting to happen as 96 fans paid the price for complacency and neglect. We collectively felt the grief and knew it could have been anyone of us that day.
All seater stadia was the solution and soon terrace culture was traded for a slick corporate statement. The Taylor Report and Sky TV had changed the football landscape forever. However, the clamour for terracing grew stronger as many felt the atmosphere was lost. But would we honestly trade safety for a better atmosphere? A compromise arrived in the form of safe standing.
Some believed that standing should never be seen again in larger venues, but it would be a far cry from the dilapidated terraces of the 1980s. In the period leading up to Hillsborough, I regularly stood on the North Bank at Upton Park. Whilst there was a great buzz, it was never the safest place to watch a match.
A lack of finances put me on the terrace and not in the relative safety of a seat. The crash barriers were largely pointless; fans surging forward would crush anyone standing behind the barrier. So the tendency was to avoid them and find a safe space. Gaps between the barriers led to bottlenecks which safe standing now seems to address.
The issue is avoided by creating railed areas with a mechanism to accommodate both seated and standing positions. Under this system seats can be tipped up and locked away, allowing fans to stand behind a continuous rail. Spectators are protected by parallel lines that prevent the pushing and shoving so typical of enclosed terraces. The Bundesliga have used the system to great effect and still retain conventional terraces for domestic games.
Celtic have similarly trialled the system; and such is the impact they are considering extension to other parts of the stadium. It doesn’t seem a huge stretch as most fans are on their feet at some point. But the focus would surely be on space behind the goals, which traditionally is where fans stood.
In late September, news broke that West Ham might join Spurs as adopters of the safe standing system. Clubs from the top two divisions had until this month to apply for a licence and participate in trials. Clubs must meet specific criteria including safe standing areas in both home and away ends.
West Ham are holding discussions with the relevant authorities before making a final decision, and I really hope we seize the opportunity to make the London Stadium a more organic environment. It will restore the best elements of terracing but without the inherent dangers of standing.