LONDON (AP) – Having visited his beloved Chelsea since the 1960s, Gary Owen has witnessed the changing experience of match day.
From dangers that have seen football fans parked behind barbed wire – and threatened with electric fences – to stadiums becoming too placid, Owen, 63, lamented the loss of raw Stamford Bridge passion.
For the first time since Premier League stadiums were ordered to all seats in 1994, Owen and thousands of other Chelsea fans could legally run for re-election on Sunday – without being ordered to sit down.
Chelsea stadium was the trailblazer as testing began with Liverpool visiting with what is called a ‘safe position’ in the Shed End where Owen had a ticket, and in a grandstand behind the other goal.
“It brings back the good old days,” said Owen, 63,. âIt could create a little more atmosphere. Football has now become a kind of business, so you lose the old-fashioned atmosphere. “
It would have been difficult to keep fans on their feet as Chelsea raised a comeback to draw 2-2 with Mateo Kovacic and Christian Pulisic scoring in a high-intensity clash with Liverpool.
âSitting is like being in your front room, which is not the same,â Owen said. âI think a lot of the grounds you go into, they lost the atmosphere when you came here 30 years ago, this place was going crazy, hopping on the rafters. But now it’s really, really calm from what it used to be.
All-seater stadiums became mandatory in the first two tiers of English football following safety recommendations made after the crash in Liverpool’s 1989 FA Cup semi-final against Nottingham Forest at Hillsborough Stadium which resulted in the death of 97 fans.
“We have learned a lot of lessons since the Hillsborough tragedy, and football has been as safe for the past 30 years as it has ever been,” said Police Chief Mark Roberts, who heads the England football police. “However, we must not be complacent and whenever such measures are introduced the safety of those attending football must be absolutely paramount in all decisions taken.”
So much has changed since then, with the establishment in 1992 of the Premier League which became the richest football competition in the world and boosted investment in stadiums.
âThings have changed, obviously for the better because we used to have a bad reputation,â Owen said.
The government has determined that now is the time to start testing the procedures so that fans no longer have to sit down.
“This is the evolution of football,” Sports Minister Nigel Huddleston said. âWhat we’re not doing is going back to the good old days of terraces, it’s very, very different.
âEveryone has a seat, and there are bars in front and behind them, and that’s really good because that will prevent any pushing backwards or forwards, especially in the intense times when there is has a purpose or something. So it’s a safe position – exactly what it says on the tin. “
Police are more cautious of the new risks potentially introduced, especially after some England fans pointed out the dangers of overcrowding the areas after violently winning the European Championship final against Italy at Wembley Stadium in north London in July.
Police believe standing fans could make it harder to identify offenders – especially racist abuse still a plague in matches – and also change the composition of the stands.
âMaybe fewer women will want to stand in this area,â Roberts told the BBC. âCertainly disabled people, elderly people. You are therefore starting to attract an audience made up mainly of men aged 16 to 55.
âThere is a threat that you would get these areas which are almost no-go areas, which would obviously lead to deterioration in behavior. If all goes well and there are no problems, I would be happy to. I just think that there are risks that could have been avoided and mitigated if the advice of the police had been heeded. “
But for the youngest fans, the return of standing is not only welcome but logical.
“Is everyone getting up anyway?” Let’s be honest, âKyle West, 22, told Chelsea’s Shed End. âI still get up anyway, to be honest. Maybe you shouldn’t. But I think it’s just the heat of the moment, isn’t it?
“It’ll encourage more people not to feel like they’re a standing nuisance.” I want to see people standing in their chairs, singing every week.
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