'Safe standing is all about giving people a choice'

Tuesday 04 January 2022 14:00

A new era began at Old Trafford on Monday evening, as United fans in selected areas were permitted to stand for the first time in almost three decades.

And one of the 1,519 Reds that experienced our new barrier seats during the Wolves match has told us that the safe standing trial represents a definite “step in the right direction”.
Will Blatcher has been attending games in M16 since 1988, and the season-ticket holder says that safe standing can promote better atmospheres and encourage more singing.
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“It was good,” he told us, the morning after the game. “I want to stand up at a game. Whether United win, whether United lose, I'm going to want to stand up and I'm going to want to support the team, and this just gives you that ability to do it a little bit more. 
“You never see a choir that are seated! If I remember correctly from being dragged to choir performances when I was at school! It promotes a better atmosphere, having people standing up.
“You're quite restricted when you're sat down. You're crammed in; there's not that much space around you. I naturally move when the game's in play. I step forward or I step sideways. I'm not quite as bad as someone like Martin O'Neill, jumping up and down on the touchline, heading every ball! But I do move with it, so being able to stand up just helps with that. I always felt restricted when I was forced to sit down at a match.”
However, it's not just about atmosphere and more space, according to Blatcher. Ever since the 1990 Taylor Report recommended that all clubs in the top two tiers of English football should play in all-seater grounds, there has been a tension between fans wanting to stand, and those who would prefer to sit.
“Everyone's got their own different approach,” he continued. “As fans will know, if we play City or Liverpool, 75 per cent might be stood up [in some all-seater sections]. And when you've got people wanting to sit down and people wanting to stand up, you've got that conflict.
“It's not what you want. You want to go to the match to enjoy it, right? You don't want people bickering among themselves about whether someone is sitting or standing. And that's why this is definitely a step in the right direction: to present people with that choice.”
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Will's father is 70 later this year, and it's the constant switching between sitting and standing that ultimately led the pair to make the move to safe standing.
“His approach has always been: he wants to sit down or he wants to stand up,” he explains. “He doesn't like a bit of both.
“If you use Germany as a reference, I've been to grounds where they've got the rail seating, where the seat is pulled up and completely disappears, as opposed to the barrier seating that we've got at Old Trafford. And I've been to grounds in Germany where there's open terracing, as you'd probably call it, like the old-fashioned days in the late ’80s at United and other clubs in the UK. 
“You don't feel unsafe, whether it's rail seating, or whether it's open terracing – you feel safe. And that's because they present people with the choice. You've got seated areas, you've got standing areas. People who want to stand go to the standing area; people who want to sit go to a seated area. I think that's exactly the direction we need to go in in the UK.”

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United are one of five clubs taking part in the trial, which also demands that sections of barrier seating must be installed in the away sections of grounds and 571 Wolves fans experienced the new option on Monday evening. 
“I think it's really encouraging that United have done this,” Will concluded. “Chelsea have as well, and City [and Tottenham and Cardiff]. It's good to see that they're part of a programme, and hopefully it really will improve the atmospheres at grounds.
“I've always liked standing and, to be honest, the choice to be able to stand up again was one that I leapt at. I've never particularly enjoyed sitting down at the match. So when the opportunity came about, it seemed too good to miss.”