Difficult to see a return of terracing

David Cuffley One of the unusual - and depending on your viewpoint, perhaps endearing - features of a visit to Home Park, Plymouth, in recent seasons has been the presence of one of the few remaining sections of terracing on a Championship ground.

David Cuffley

One of the unusual - and depending on your viewpoint, perhaps endearing - features of a visit to Home Park, Plymouth, in recent seasons has been the presence of one of the few remaining sections of terracing on a Championship ground.

The standing enclosure at the front of the ageing main stand was especially unusual for this day and age in that it ran along the length of the pitch on one side of the ground.

Those few areas of terrace that remain generally tend to be behind the goal, as at Cardiff's Ninian Park, a ground which is soon to close with a brand new stadium well on the way to completion.

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However, on arriving early for last week's match between Plymouth and the Canaries, I walked on to the lower tier of the late 1940s stand to find that seating has now been installed on the terracing as a prelude to redevelopment of that side of the stadium.

While no one can dispute that the all-seater Carrow Road is a vastly superior venue to Home Park, there was a certain sadness in seeing the loss of another traditional standing section for those who prefer not to sit at football matches.

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The Canaries' home ground has now been all-seater for more than 16 years. When the old Barclay Stand was demolished in 1992, it was replaced during the close season by the current double-decker structure. And, though he was heavily criticised at the time, club chairman Robert Chase decided to go the whole hog and have the lower tier of the River End Stand - as some of us still prefer to call it - converted from terracing to seats at the same time.

One of the immediate effects of implementing the all-seater recommendation of the Taylor Report - which followed the inquiry into the 1989 Hillsborough disaster - was that the cheapest admission price at Carrow Road immediately doubled. Those who had paid £5 to stand on the terraces the previous season had to pay £10 at most games for the lowest-priced seat.

Yet, helped by the fact that the Canaries enjoyed their best season ever, finishing third in the new FA Premier League in 1992-93, most people were prepared to pay it.

Now nobody under the age of 20 can recall what it was like to stand on the terraces at Norwich, unless they did so from the front row as four-year-olds with their legs through the perimeter fence or stood on a stool or an upturned crate.

A whole new generation of fans has grown up in the all-seater era, and doubtless that has been part of the attraction, to judge from the rapid growth in the number of families attending City matches over the past decade.

They turn up secure in the knowledge that they have a guaranteed seat in the same place and in a safe environment at each home game.

Nevertheless, calls for the return of standing terraces have never totally subsided.

Last week, delegates at the Liberal Democrats' annual conference in Bournemouth overwhelmingly backed a call to allow standing areas to be re-introduced in England.

When the Norwich Evening News ran a supporters' poll on its website this week, there was an exact 50-50 split on the proposal, not as big a percentage in favour of a return to terracing as we might have expected 10 years ago, but still a significant proportion.

This weekend, football fans from 14 different countries are uniting in the Eurostand 2008 campaign to demand the right to stand.

In England, the Football Supporters' Federation and Stand Up Sit Down have led the campaign to re-open the case for standing sections.

They point to German grounds with huge, safe standing areas, as proof that terracing still works.

Borussia Dortmund, boasting crowds of up to 80,000, have Europe's biggest standing section, which alone holds 25,000 fans.

Schalke 04's Veltins-Arenain Gelsenkirchen has staggered barriers on every fourth step of its standing section.

These are easily removed and replaced with seating for international and European club games that operate under all-seater rules. The section holds 16,307 standing or 8,600 seated.

Both clubs insist they have had no injuries to fans or outbreaks of violence related to their standing areas.

Closer to home, there are still sections of Carrow Road where fans stand throughout matches, technically against club policy, but without being ejected.

But whether City fans who object to being told to sit down have a realistic hope of the re-introduction of terraces is another matter.

I would love to see packed terraces at Carrow Road again, but if opinion among fans really is split 50-50, the club may antagonise as many supporters as they please with such a move. It is certainly more difficult for young fans to see from the terraces.

And will a club that has to watch the pennies on all fronts think it prudent to spend thousands of pounds ripping out seats - seats that are already full at nearly every game - from, say, the lower sections of the Barclay and River End, and replacing them with crash barriers? They may feel it is not exactly top priority at the moment.

Since City already have 20,000 season ticket-holders happy to commit to buying a seat - guaranteed income, even if it doesn't all come in by August - I suspect they will take the view that if it ain't broke, why fix it?

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