Words: Steve Wright
Safe standing appears to be getting closer with Shrewsbury Town, with the support of the EFL, applying for permission to fit rail seating in their stadium before the end of the upcoming season and a number of other clubs thought to be interested. Northampton Town Supporters’ Trust is talking to its club about the possibility and the Premier League has written to its members about interest in possible trials. Of course a number of EFL clubs, 21 to be precise, already have legacy old style terraces but the momentum to introduce safe standing across the country is growing.
Nottingham Forest holds a unique position in the debate being the “other club” in the Hillsborough disaster. Many of us were present on 15 April 1989 and what we saw will never leave us. We also have something special to offer, however, in both our understanding of that devastating day in the sunshine of South Yorkshire and more positively in the developing relationship between fan group Forza Garibaldi and the club. It gives us the opportunity to both care deeply that there is never another terrace tragedy and provide an ability to self-police and ensure any future standing privileges are not abused.
In Germany, a country we find ourselves envying for its fan culture as well as its consistent success on the pitch, organised fan groups are able to do exactly that. The ownership model is very different of course with members being the club and able to appoint board members, but other areas of fan engagement are still highly relevant. At Union Berlin, for example, the “Ultras” fan groups are given license to organise coordinated away sections, have free reign on choreographed displays in their ground and have been consulted on stadium development. The crucial element of all of these interactions being that the club trust its fans on these issues rather than trying to control or direct them.
The practical reality is probably that now is not the time for Forest to dive headlong into this area when others are better placed to trial schemes and essentially do the legwork for the game as a whole. If and when plans form towards any significant development of the City Ground though it is something to have firmly in mind. Atmosphere is a key ingredient of live football and something that many people feel has been lost in the post 1992 era so finding ways of bringing some of it back should be central to stadium design moving forwards.
With new owners in place the time is ripe for planning ahead and considering all manner of linked issues, such as how to fill a ground that has been under-utilised in recent times, how to differentiate pricing, improve match-day experience and so on, and safe standing could well have a part to play. The blossoming engagement of Forest fans in both Forza Garibaldi and the Supporters’ Trust should be central to that planning process and with positive noises about fan interaction from the club’s new hierarchy maybe we really can become an exemplar at the forefront of engagement and innovation in the game.
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