An Arsenal season ticket costs around ten times more than the £104 standing season ticket at Bayern Munich. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Why it's time for football clubs to reintroduce standing areas

The introduction of "safe-standing" at Premiership football grounds would allow clubs to reduce ticket prices and prove that clubs are prepared to listen to their fans.

The Fullwell End at Roker Park was where I first learned to love football. The football wasn’t great – despite glimmers of brilliance from the likes of Marco Gabbiadini, Sunderland spent most of their time before they left for the Stadium of Light in 1997 battling for survival in one division or another. I started watching Sunderland in our first, and thankfully only, season in the old third division and on the last game at Roker Park they were relegated from the Premiership. The bitter wind blowing in from the seafront made Roker Park one of the coldest sporting arenas of them all.

But the Fullwell End and Roker Park had an atmosphere all of its own. Sunderland players and fans spoke with pride and opposing fans spoke with trepidation about the famous "Roker Roar". When Sunderland moved on from Roker Park with a 3-0 win over Everton, I saw tears in the eyes of very tough men. There are no terraces at the Stadium of Light, nor are there terraces at any other Premier League ground. The reaction to Lord Justice Taylor’s report following the Hillsborough disaster signalled the end of standing in Premiership footballing grounds, with the famous old terraces being replaced by all-seater stadia.

Something was lost when we left Roker Park, with its history going back to 1897. And something was lost when football turned its back on the terraces. The atmosphere at some Premiership grounds borders on the sterile (obviously not when Sunderland are playing), with the shift away from any standing areas being a big cause in the changing atmosphere at football matches. All seater grounds are more expensive – as Crystal Palace fans pointed out recently, the cost of a ticket for away fans at Chelsea represents nine hours work for somebody paid the minimum wage. Since standing areas can accommodate a higher density of supporters, clubs will also be able to decrease ticket prices for hard-pressed fans.

As football has become increasingly corporatised and distant from its working class roots, fans have been left feeling disengaged from their clubs and their sport, with attendances falling in recent years. The issue of standing at football grounds is an area in which fans have expressed their views overwhelmingly and the clubs should show that they’re prepared to listen. Polls have shown that up to 90 per cent of football supporters support a return to standing at football grounds. It’s fans who turn up in the rain, wind and snow to make football the force it is today and the fans’ voice on this (and on many other issues) should be listened to. Football is a social game that is deeply rooted in communities and standing allows families and groups of friends to enjoy matches together without advance planning or dealing with seating charts.

The argument for allowing so-called "safe-standing" at Premiership football grounds is overwhelming. Safe-standing isn’t the same as old style terraces, but allows stands to be easily converted from seating to standing areas and back again at little cost. German grounds have safe-standing areas and we should be learning from their example. We were told that a move to all-seater stadia would help us win the bid to host the World Cup, only for Germany, with its standing areas to trump our bid and win the right to host the 2006 tournament.

Safe-standing is one example where German clubs are much more in touch with their fans than English clubs. A standing season ticket at Bayern Munich, the best team in Europe, cost £104. An Arsenal season ticket costs around ten times that. Bayern’s President, Uli Hoeness, said, "we do not think the fans are like cows, who you milk. Football has got to be for everybody."

Opponents of safe-standing often point towards the example of Hillsborough to argue that there should be no return to standing. And they’re right that we should do all that we can to make sure that there is never any repeat of that darkest day for British football. But even the Taylor Report suggested that Hillsborough was caused by poor policing, overcrowding and the disgraceful fences that were used to keep fans virtually caged. There’s no evidence that safe-standing is anything other than entirely safe.

It’s now 20 years since football grounds in the top division had to become all-seater. And, contrary to the predictions of football club chairmen and politicians at the time, many fans haven’t grown to love not standing at matches. Fans want to see a return to standing at football grounds and it’s clear that a return to standing wouldn’t pose any safety risks. Reintroducing standing areas would show that football clubs actually care about what fans think and there’s no reason for government to stand in the way of Premiership clubs who want to listen to their fans.

David Skelton is the director of Renewal, a new campaign group aiming to broaden the appeal of the Conservative Party to working class and ethnic minority voters. @djskelton

Felipe Araujo
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Hull revisited: What happens when a Brexit stronghold becomes City of Culture?

We report from Hull, to find out if you can replace the kind of nostalgia that led to a Leave vote with cultural investment.

At 75 metres long, the offshore wind turbine blade erected across Queen Victoria Square, in the heart of Hull, is a sculpture intended to mark a new chapter in the city’s history. For the next 12 months, Hull, a city of more than a quarter of a million people in the northeast of England, will be the UK’s City of Culture.

The 28-tonne blade hails from the local Siemens plant. The German technology company employs around 1,000 people in the area, making it Hull’s biggest single employer.

Seen up close in this context – laid dormant in the middle of a town square instead of spinning up in the air generating energy – the structure is meant to remind passersby of a giant sea creature. It is also, I’m told, an allusion to Hull’s rich maritime history.


All photos: Felipe Araujo

Nostalgia is a big thing in this part of the country. At one point, Hull was the UK’s third largest port but technology and privatisation drastically changed that. The battle over cod fishing with Iceland in the waters of the North Sea 40 years ago has also dealt a major blow to a region with a long and proud trawling tradition.

People here still talk about a bygone era when the fishing industry provided jobs for everyone and there was enough money to go around.

Fast forward to 2017, and the country’s new capital of culture is the same city that voted 67 per cent in favour of leaving the EU last June. Its new-found prestige, it seems, is not enough to erase years of neglect by a political class “too busy for commoners like us”, as one resident puts it.

“More than a message to Brussels, it [the Brexit vote] was a message to Westminster,” Paul Leeson-Taylor, a filmmaker born and bred in Hull, tells me. “For the first time in a long time people in Hull felt like they had the chance to change something, and they took it.”

But while speaking to people on the high street and hanging out with locals at the Community Boxing Club in Orchard Park, one of the city’s most deprived areas, there is one word that consistently popped up in conversation – more than any specific policy from Westminster or the much-hated rules “dictated” by Brussels. Foreigners.

According to official figures, Hull’s population is 89.1 per cent white British. Still, immigration is big on people’s minds here.

During my two-day stay in the city, I find myself being the only black person in most places I visit – I’m certainly the only black guy at the boxing club. So when someone begins a sentence with “I’m not racist but…”, I know a tirade on immigrants is about to ensue.

“There are just too many of them,” Nick Beach, an estate agent whose Polish clientele is a big part of his business, tells me as he is about to teach a boxing class to local children. Beach was born in Shepherd’s Bush, in West London, but has been living in Hull for the last 20 years.

“When I go down there these days and go into Westfield shopping centre, it is very rare you get an English person serving you now,” he says. “I just find it disappointing that you go into your capital city and you are a minority there.”

These are the much-discussed “left behind”, a white working-class community that has gained particular prominence in a time of Brexit and Donald Trump. Under economic pressure and facing social change, they want to have their say in running a country they claim to no longer recognise.

For Professor Simon Lee, a senior politics lecturer at the University of Hull, immigration is only a superficial layer when it comes to explaining the resentment I witness here. For him, the loss of the empire 70 years ago is still something that as a country Britain hasn’t come to terms with.

“The reason for us to be together as a United Kingdom has gone, so what is the project?”

As destiny would have it, a foreign company will now play a major role on Hull’s economic future, at least in the short term. In the wake of the Brexit vote, there were widespread fears Siemens would pull out of the region and take its factory elsewhere. With the massive blade looming large in the background, Jason Speedy, director of the blade factory in Hull, assures me that isn’t the case.

“The Brexit decision has made no difference. We have made our investment decision, so Siemens, together with the Association of British Ports, has put in £310m. It’s all full steam ahead.”

As Hull becomes the country’s cultural hub for the next few months, the hope is that its residents stop looking back and start looking forward.

For Professor Lee, though, until there is a complete change in the power structures that run the country, the north-south divide will remain – with or without the EU. “The way you kill nostalgia is to have something new,” he said. “The reason why people here are nostalgic is because there is nothing to replace it with.”

Felipe Araujo is a freelance journalist based in London. He writes about race, culture and sports. He covered the Rio Olympics and Paralympics on the ground for the New Statesman. He tweets @felipethejourno.