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

Chuka Umunna speaks at the launch of Labour's education manifesto during the general election. Photograph: Getty Images.
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After so badly misjudging the leadership contest, how will the Blairites handle Corbyn?

The left-winger's opponents are divided between conciliation and aggression. 

When Labour lost the general election in May, the party’s modernisers sensed an opportunity. Ed Miliband, one of the most left-wing members of the shadow cabinet, had been unambiguously rejected and the Tories had achieved their first majority in 23 years. More than any other section of the party, the Blairites could claim to have foreseen such an outcome. Surely the pendulum would swing their way?

Yet now, as Labour’s leadership contest reaches its denouement, those on the right are asking themselves how they misjudged the landscape so badly. Their chosen candidate, Liz Kendall, is expected to finish a poor fourth and the party is poised to elect Jeremy Corbyn, the most left-wing leader in its 115-year history. For a faction that never ceases to underline the importance of winning elections, it will be a humbling result.

Though the crash has been sudden, the Blairites have long been in decline. Gordon Brown won the leadership unchallenged and senior figures such as John Reid, James Purnell and Alan Milburn chose to depart from the stage rather than fight on. In 2010, David Miliband, the front-runner in the leadership election, lost to his brother after stubbornly refusing to distance himself from the Iraq war and alienating undecided MPs with his imperiousness.

When the younger Miliband lost, the modernisers moved fast – too fast. “They’re behaving like family members taking jewellery off a corpse,” a rival campaign source told me on 9 May. Many Labour supporters agreed. The rush of op-eds and media interviews antagonised a membership that wanted to grieve in peace. The modernising contenders – Chuka Umunna, Liz Kendall, Mary Creagh, Tristram Hunt – gave the impression that the Blairites wanted to drown out all other voices. “It was a huge mistake for so many players from that wing of the party to be put into the field,” a shadow cabinet minister told me. “In 1994, forces from the soft left to the modernising right united around Tony Blair. The lesson is never again can we have multiple candidates.”

While conducting their post-mortem, the Blairites are grappling with the question of how to handle Corbyn. For some, the answer is simple. “There shouldn’t be an accommodation with Corbyn,” John McTernan, Blair’s former director of political operations, told me. “Corbyn is a disaster and he should be allowed to be his own disaster.” But most now adopt a more conciliatory tone. John Woodcock, the chair of Progress, told me: “If he wins, he will be the democratically elected leader and I don’t think there will be any serious attempt to actually depose him or to make it impossible for him to lead.”

Umunna, who earlier rebuked his party for “behaving like a petulant child”, has emphasised that MPs “must accept the result of our contest when it comes and support our new leader in developing an agenda that can return Labour to office”. The shadow business secretary even suggests that he would be prepared to discuss serving in Corbyn’s shadow cabinet if he changed his stances on issues such as nuclear disarmament, Nato, the EU and taxation. Were Umunna, a former leadership contender, to adopt a policy of aggression, he would risk being blamed should Corbyn fail.

Suggestions that the new parliamentary group Labour for the Common Good represents “the resistance” are therefore derided by those close to it. The organisation, which was launched by Umunna and Hunt before Corbyn’s surge, is aimed instead at ensuring the intellectual renewal that modernisers acknowledge has been absent since 2007. It will also try to unite the party’s disparate mainstream factions: the Blairites, the Brownites, the soft left, the old right and Blue Labour. The ascent of Corbyn, who has the declared support of just 15 MPs (6.5 per cent of the party), has persuaded many that they cannot afford the narcissism of small differences. “We need to start working together and not knocking lumps out of each other,” Woodcock says. There will be no defections, no SDP Mk II. “Jeremy’s supporters really underestimate how Labour to the core the modernisers are,” Pat McFadden, the shadow Europe minister, told me.

Although they will not change their party, the Blairites are also not prepared to change their views. “Those of us on this side of Labour are always accused of being willing to sell out for power,” a senior moderniser told me. “Well, we do have political principles and they’re not up for bartering.” He continued: “Jeremy Corbyn is not a moderate . . .
He’s an unreconstructed Bennite who regards the British army as morally equivalent to the IRA. I’m not working with that.”

Most MPs believe that Corbyn will fail but they are divided on when. McFadden has predicted that the left-winger “may even get a poll bounce in the short term, because he’s new and thinking differently”. A member of the shadow cabinet suggested that Labour could eventually fall to as low as 15 per cent in the polls and lose hundreds of councillors.

The challenge for the Blairites is to reboot themselves in time to appear to be an attractive alternative if and when Corbyn falters. Some draw hope from the performance of Tessa Jowell, who they still believe will win the London mayoral selection. “I’ve spoken to people who are voting enthusiastically both for Jeremy and for Tessa,” Wes Streeting, the newly elected MP for Ilford North, said. “They have both run very optimistic, hopeful, positive campaigns.”

But if Corbyn falls, it does not follow that the modernisers will rise. “The question is: how do we stop it happening again if he does go?” a senior frontbencher said. “He’s got no interest or incentive to change the voting method. We could lose nurse and end up with something worse.” If the road back to power is long for Labour, it is longest of all for the Blairites. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 03 September 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Pope of the masses