When sorting tickets for Sunderland’s trip to Accrington Stanley this weekend, it was great to have the option of buying seats or going into the Coppice Terrace behind the goal.
There are several justifiable concerns over whether standing should be allowed at league grounds of course, and it is important to note that the old school terracing at the Wham Stadium is quite different to what ‘safe standing’ entails but, having that choice available again in the future could help make the match day experience better for all concerned.
Speaking as somebody that is relatively fit and able-bodied, I have wanted the ability to stand at home games for a long time; I grew up going to Roker Park and nearly always stood when watching the Lads back then, so in a perfect world that would be my first choice even now.
My situation is different when I want to take one of the kids with me, however, and I appreciate that standing does not suit everybody, but there are enough people for whom it does so a compromise would be very welcome.
At all-seater stadiums it is common for there to be tension between fellow fans when those that insist on still standing up throughout the game block the view of everybody sat behind.
Just because you want to do something it doesn’t mean that you always should, however, and what some perhaps fail to grasp is that for others it is not just a case of ‘getting on with it’. Not everybody is physically able to stand up for long periods or is big enough to see past people that are taller than them, and at present, their enjoyment is being greatly reduced as a result.
At the Stadium of Light it is now well established which areas of the ground are most suitable for your personal circumstances or preference. That is not the case when going to away grounds though, and I know some Sunderland fans that choose not to go to these anymore as they cannot guarantee who will be placed in front of them.
If they were going to a match safe in the knowledge that standers were being catered for elsewhere in the stadium though, their feelings would quickly change and suddenly these trips become a possibility again.
It is often claimed that standing at football helps create a livelier atmosphere, and from my own experience I would go along with that. It is hard to tell if that is because of the action itself, or just because having the option available means those that do like to chant and jump around are able to congregate, but either way it is a good thing.
Games are much more enjoyable when the place is rocking, and the old Roker Roar can invariably help spur the team onto better things.
Standing at football can be romanticised somewhat I admit. If it pours down at Accrington again one or two people may wish they had gone in the seats after all, and of course, there is always the risk that you could do yourself an injury during celebrations or lose a prime spot on the terraces if you nip to the toilets.
Rail seating and your own allotted spot would help negate some of the issues however and allows for an element of flexibility – you can stand if you want, but if certain competition rules dictate or the Stadium of Light is being transformed into a music venue over the summer these things can easily be accommodated.
Whether it is even possible to install safe standing at Sunderland easily I am unsure – with the SoL being a purpose-built seating arena the gradients of the stands may need to be altered, and due to the lower tiers being partially sunken and the upper tiers being above the concourses that may require extensive work.
It might also mean that supporters are no longer able to walk right the way around the ground at half time to see people in other sections, which is one of my favourite features and something I wouldn’t like to lose unless absolutely necessary.
There is a long way to go before safe standing is allowed permanently in UK football and some of the points raised above means it may be a nonstarter for Sunderland even if it is approved. If it can be proven that safe standing is manageable though, and that some of the outdated attitudes towards crowd handling and stadium maintenance have evolved sufficiently, however, then being given back that choice would be a positive development.