The full back hasn’t tucked in to close the gap between him and his centre half. Your side’s holding midfielder splits the miscommunication with a forty-yard through ball after the centre forward who grew up down the road from your three-bedroom-semi occupied the space. This is your identity. It’s part of you.
Your body reacts to the opportunity – the sniff of a score – one that wouldn’t mean a whole lot in the context of a season, but in that moment – means everything. You knees unbend and you rise to bare witness.
You’re tapped on the back, temporarily brought back to reality. The bloke behind you with an unfamiliar accent informs you that you’re getting in the way of his boomerang for Instagram, and requests via hand signals that you should sit down, as to avoid impeding his view. The one that cost the same as yours, apparently.
He smashed the through ball into the bottom corner, but the moment’s gone. Strangers around you celebrate, but the only connection is to that of the side. Friendship segregated by ticketing systems and strict legislation was rightfully carried over, but from a different era where modern advancements weren’t there to complement the footballing experience. Sponsorship elevated football, but the only people that got richer were the players and the executives.
It’s one thing to strip you of your cash, but to take away the social element of football and sterilise it so much that you just feel like a clean-shaven consumer to a big board is too much. Years ago, football formed friendships; it formed identities and it formed bonds that were never forgotten. Stadia don’t host gorgeous variation between melancholy and elation anymore, they bare witness to indifference. All of this is fine as consumerism brought the game to as wide an audience as it has today. But the purity of footballing occasion is lost.
Safe standing must be implemented now that there’s viability. Let those who wish to sit – sit. Let those who wish to stand together and be over the top be exactly that. Chances are that you’ll very quickly find people whose inner passions you can relate to, rather than being urged to sit down because they don’t understand the rush of blood to the head that comes with fandom – genuine fandom.
While politics apparently don’t belong in football (a whole other argument – I think they do), to truly engage what a fanbase stands for, you must be able to ship likeminded people together in a space that becomes their own. Fan groups all over the world stand for their beliefs that are often established through the club’s historical ties. As of right now, the term ‘franchise’ comes to mind when you think of English football. A reversion to safe standing can add colour back to proceedings. There’s a reason people have Parkhead on their bucket lists – they literally and metaphorically stand for something. It transcends football.
The sooner football becomes less of an event and more of a cultural congregation, the sooner it becomes a people’s game again. The first step in (re-)establishing identity is by presenting the hardcore with an area in which to get their views across. If you want to sit down and watch football, it also ensures that you don’t get caught up in a group of people that have different values to you. Safe standing can revitalise the generally mundane experience of watching football in England.