A Love Supreme: (Safe) Standing Room Only

It's all about creating a noise and starting a revolution as fans flock to the new South Stand.

Hello there! As you know, we also provide our thoughts to a column in the best Sunderland fanzine around, A Love Supreme. We're quite honored by that having grown up reading it, and over the summer we're going to bring you some of the columns we did over the last year or so.

For those not au fait with A Love Supreme already, where have you been hiding? Seriously, you must be off in the head or something. Get yourself subscribed to this fine, fine publication, and bag some extra goodies by CLICKING HERE and also remember to visit their website HERE for daily news and notes concerning our beloved club.

Now then, it's column time. in this installment from ALS 209, David Boyle looks at creating more of an atmosphere at the Stadium Of Light, touching on safe standing, and all this moving to the South Stand lark...

Football has become sterile. Let's not beat around the bush. Every element of the game has evolved into a squeaky clean product that Sky can peddle to its millions of subscribers, willing to part with their hard earned cash for the glamorous, well produced product. It's not just the way that we consume our favourite sport in the pubs or at home that has changed but as a trip to your football ground of choice will unmistakably show the matchday experience itself has changed irrevocably.

As football fans, we're not all completely brainless, we can appreciate why such a change in mindset was required and the dark days of hooliganism have been eradicated from our game. Not for one moment am I going to advocate a return to that era. We can also understand and respect the decision to improve the facilities that hold thousands, even tens of thousands of fans in different venues up and down the country each weekend.

The safer environment has welcomed women, children and whole families into the sport who previously would not have dreamed of braving the dilapidated stands of say our beloved Roker Park. However whilst football has changed its perception and matured into a multi-million pound entertainment business which is enjoyed by countless fans that tune in from across the globe to any of the multitude of programming we have dedicated to our past-time one element of the game has been ruined - the matchday atmosphere.

I'm at pains to get all misty eyed with regards to our spiritual home Roker Park, as we have all read hundreds of stories overloaded with wistful nostalgia but in this instance lets indulge ourselves. For those of us lucky enough to have spent time on her hallowed stands the atmosphere generated at Roker, at times, was enough to make the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end. Even those too young to have passed through the old iron turnstiles will have heard the stories and seen footage of the "Roker Roar" for themselves.

So that begs the question, what changed? With hindsight following the relocation across the City to the banks of the Wear the famous atmosphere seemed to have also made the transfer. Peter Reid had transformed Sunderland into an attractive outfit, laying waste to all on-comers in exciting new surroundings. Times were good and the atmosphere was a direct correlation to what was being produced on the pitch. However as the seasons have come and gone Sunderland's fortunes have been a mixed bag and that's putting it lightly. As a result the atmosphere has never quite recovered.

There are of course still pockets of rebellion, valiant supporters fighting to keep alive the Roker Roar. The fans that have taken up residence in the South West Corner, The "Sunderland Fans Group", for example have gone above and beyond in their efforts to support the team with their array of banners and chants. The "Ha'way The Flags" project has also created a number of outstanding flags to help bolster the atmosphere at the ground and have been funded by generous donations, a sure sign if ever there was one that the people that count want to bring back the boisterous and animated crowds we left behind.

The club itself to be fair also seem keen to help bring back the noise. You will no doubt have heard of the plans to move the travelling fans to the North Stand concourse from their current allocation behind the South Stand goal in a bid to eradicate any advantage afforded to our guests on the pitch. A situation which should have been in place from the very beginning in my opinion. SAFC also seem very keen to utilise the space created as a "lively singing section" following on from the results garnered from a fans survey.

However, are we going far enough? Wouldn't it be fantastic to see SAFC act as one of the pioneer clubs in the country trying to push forward the case for safe standing to be implemented in our stadia? The argument is no longer as easy to dismiss off hand as it once was.

Well over a decade ago, in 1995, then Prime Minister Tony Blair said this on the matter: 'While safety must always be the number-one criterion, there is no reason to ignore technological improvements made since Lord Justice Taylor reported, which might now allow for safe standing.' The facts can no longer be ignored and whilst it is a sensitive debate for the powers that be, one they would no doubt prefer to just brush under the carpet, due to the stigma attached to the topic following on from the Hillsborough tragedy, it is a case they can no longer ignore. Terracing was not to blame that day; archaic fencing and poor policing was.

The Bundesliga has been the proving ground for safe standing for many years now, with Borussia Dortmund's willingness to embrace the new technology allowing for over 24,000 supporters to stand safely in their Westfalenstadion which holds over 80,000 fans being the stand out example of how the proposals can be successfully implemented. The standing section also allows the German side to appropriately price admission to the standing section allowing for a cheaper alternative to the, now, more traditional seating areas. Would a similar standing section at the SOL entice back the missing fans with a lower admission cost to boot?

Recently clubs like Aston Villa, Celtic and Rangers have lent their voice in support of the campaign, with the midlands side going as far as to earmark a section of Villa Park which would be used to trial safe standing should the current laws be relaxed in the near future. Wouldn't it be fantastic to see SAFC offer their support to the cause especially whilst we are looking at ways to improve the atmosphere and also tempt back some of the fans that currently prefer to watch the game via a satellite stream in one of the city's watering holes?

So here's to a scenario in the not to distant future where we can all stand and sing without fearing the wrath of the blue coat brigade and fly our flags without fear of confiscation. Here's to the return of standing within the English Football Leagues. Here's to SAFC lending their voice to the campaign.

DAVID BOYLE

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Remember to get yourself subscribed to A Love Supreme HERE or you'll regret it for the rest of your life.

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