This week the issue of standing at football matches returned, due to a decision to prosecute some of the officials involved in the Hillsborough tragedy and an application by Shrewsbury Town to install safe terraces. Having stood to watch football at the Gay Meadow, Shrewsbury’s old ground, and worked at Hillsborough, I have mixed feelings about the reintroduction of terraces.
Since Hillsborough nearly a third of professional clubs in England have moved to new stadiums, nearly all of them without terraces. Those in the top two divisions, who stayed put, were obliged to become all-seater and many took the opportunity to redevelop. Football is currently enjoying a renaissance as a spectator sport with modern stadiums helping to attract families, deterred by the spectre of hooliganism in the 1980s. They have displaced traditional working-class male supporters, and the hooligans, for a price.
In the decade that followed Hillsborough the price of top-flight tickets rose by 312%. The Premier League now suggests that 75% of those attending matches are middle class and thus able to pay more. In Shrewsbury’s division, the third tier, the cheapest matchday ticket last year was £12. For people on a low income this can be expensive, especially compared to the cost of a subscription to watch the big games on television.
Terracing should be cheaper than seats so Shrewsbury and other clubs that bring them back must increase attendances or lose revenue. The real danger is that the generation who preferred to stand will not return.