There has been some talk recently about the possibility of the return of standing areas to top flight football in Scotland. Celtic are exploring the feasibility of turning part of their impressive stadium into a standing area and Rangers are also believed to be considering a similar proposal for Ibrox. The idea, it seems, has been mooted from supporters and the fact some of their views are at least being considered is welcome - I can remember a time when the views of the fans wasn’t even part of the agenda of some clubs’ board meetings, far less being treated as a serious proposal. Even the SPL Chief Executive, Neil Doncaster, has been quoted as saying the return of standing areas to SPL clubs is ‘something he would like to see explored’. I have to say I agree with him.
Tynecastle Stadium today is an impressive, all-seated amphitheatre generating an atmosphere that few clubs can better. However, it could be argued that transforming the old lady from the crumbling terracings of two decades ago to the stadium we have now has bucked the trend somewhat when it comes to creating an atmospheric arena. Celtic and Rangers may have larger attendances than anyone else in Scotland and, indeed, most of the United Kingdom, but this doesn’t necessarily mean the atmosphere at Celtic Park and Ibrox is always fervent. This is reflected in the Celtic Supporters’ Trust proposing the safe standing area in the first place.
With all-seated stadia came the penchant of fans purchasing season tickets - the cost of which rocketed a decade and a half ago in order to finance redevelopment. Fans have now become accustomed to sitting in the same part of the stadium every home game and this had bred a familiarity that is comforting in many ways - fans know where they’re heading to and have mostly familiar faces around them - but can also result in a more passive approach, particularly if the opposition is one of the smaller clubs with a travelling support in their dozens rather than hundreds, thus falling short of creating anything like a decent atmosphere.
Those of us who were Tynecastle patrons pre Wheatfield Stand will recall the comparative ease of going to watch Hearts play. A few pints in The Diggers before the game before heading to the game ten minutes before kick-off, standing in the old shed or on the open terracing behind the goal. It was mostly cash at the gate in those days, which meant you could decide pretty much up until kick-off if you fancied going to see the Maroons that day. Today, there is the added task of going to the ticket office to buy a ticket on the day which some may think is an added inconvenience.
We live in a different age now and Hearts have a significant number of season ticket holders. Smart card technology means they can have cup-ties and friendly games added to their card simply by picking up the telephone or clicking a mouse on their computer. Which is fine for those fans who can afford to purchase a season ticket. A safe standing area would a least give those fans who cannot afford to pay up front for their football - and in these recession hit times these will be increasing in number this year - the opportunity to head to a game if they had the opportunity or finance to do so. Presumably, the cost of standing at the game would be reduced accordingly - clubs could hardly charge the same amount to fans choosing to stand for 90 minutes as they would for those who have a seat. Now, I’m no expert but if the cost of standing would be, let’s say 75 per cent of a seated supporter, this might encourage fans to head to the game at an affordable price.
If Hearts were to consider a safe standing area, it would probably be in the enclosure at the front of the old main stand. This area isn’t always full but I can envisage a return to standing in this area and it being well populated most home games. One might argue the revenue from admission to this area might drop as a result of decreased admission charges - but I would argue there would be increased numbers as more and more fans would be attracted to this part of the stadium. Moreover, more people in this part of Tynecastle would mean more people buying food, match day programmes, half-time draw tickets and visits to the club shop.
No one wants to return to the dark days of the 1980s when unsafe terracings cost lives at places like Hillsborough in Sheffield. Standing at football can be safe if it is kept under close observation and control - most of us who made the post Christmas trek to Pittodrie last week ago didn’t bother sitting down in the Artic conditions and there were no incidents (although the fact most of us were too busy fighting hypothermia was possibly a factor!) Anything that can attract more people to the game must surely be considered. It’s time for Scottish football to, literally, stand up and be counted.