10 days ago marked the 27th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster, the darkest day in Liverpool FC’s storied history. Amidst the controversy of hooliganism in English footballing culture, 96 fans lost their lives and then saw their reputations slandered. For over two decades the victims of the disaster were denied justice and blamed for their own deaths. The horrific event, and the subsequent denial of the truth, touched nearly every member of the Liverpool community, bringing one of Europe’s greatest fan bases even closer to the team they supported, and as part of the attempt to divert blame from the South Yorkshire Police department, standing terraces were banned from English football.
One year ago, after 26 years of denial, it was finally announced that the Liverpool supporters were killed by the gross negligence of the police and the medical services. Not only was the tragedy due to the police department’s failure, they then immediately lied to place the blame on the deceased supporters.
With the truth finally in the open, it is time for England to revisit the ban on standing room sections in stadiums.
One of the biggest complaints about modern stadiums is that they fail to match the atmospheres of their predecessors. The reality is that European soccer is suffering from the gentrification of their audience. A ticket to the Liverpool-Nottingham Forest FA Cup semi-final cost £6. Today, the cheapest ticket at Wembley Stadium, the home of the English national team and the FA Cup semifinals, is £45. Driven by the enormous popularity of the English Premier League, some of the club’s most loyal fans have been priced out of watching the clubs they grew up following. Instead, they are replaced by football tourists or wealthier fans that have comparatively little loyalty to the team and certainly contribute less to the stadium’s atmosphere.
While the growing popularity of the game is not limited to England, other countries have figured out ways to combat the growing expenses of attending the modern game. A single match ticket at Arsenal can cost up to €115 whereas a season ticket at Borussia Dortmund, a team that has enjoyed considerably more success in the Champions League this decade, can be bought for €130. Apart from Germany’s unique team ownership schemes, one of the reason the club can offer tickets for so much cheaper is the successful reintegration of standing room only sections.
Borussia Dortmund is currently the poster child of the standing terrace, with the Westfalenstadion’s south stand famous amongst European soccer followers. I have been lucky enough to attend matches at some of the world’s most famous stadiums during my semester abroad, but nothing compared to the environment I witnessed at Borussia Dortmund. With a ticket in the famous south stand in hand and nothing better to do on a rainy day in the small German city, I got to the stadium three hours before kickoff. Unlike most stadiums that remain half empty fifteen minutes before kickoff, the stand’s capacity of 35,000, the largest standing room only terrace in Europe, was 75% full two hours before kickoff. Not only did standing force fans to arrive earlier, it forced them to be more engaged with the game. And for the next four hours, the south stand was louder than any stadium I have seen.
In addition to greatly increasing the stadium’s capacity, the south stand’s 35,000 is nearly the entire capacity of Liverpool’s famous Anfield, the crowd was noticeably younger. The result was an unparalleled atmosphere that has ingrained itself in the club’s identity. Dortmund boast a young team known for playing “heavy metal football” which is mirrored by the clubs support. With the south stand at its heart, the club has been able to capture the synergy between its fan base and the team they support that has far too often escaped England’s best sides.
So as England, and Liverpool specifically, finally begin to heal 27 years after the deadliest day in English sporting history, the country should turn to Germany to help improve the declining atmosphere of English grounds. With hooliganism nearly eradicated from the modern game and new technology, it is time for the return of standing terraces to the birthplace of soccer.
- Matthew Zinner