One of the most vivid memories from my playing days is of fans packed into the Gwladys Street end at Goodison Park so tightly that only their eyes and the tops of their heads were visible.
I can remember similar scenes at Rangers and West Ham. Those atmospheres were electric.
While I wouldn’t want to recreate everything about those occasions – I can also recall the way the Kop used to sway, dragging people 5m in one direction and then another – I think it’s fair to say that atmospheres in British football aren’t what they were.
The Premier League has been an enormous success and matches at that level are a lot safer now that the grounds are all-seater. However, it has come at something of a cost.
I think it’s undeniable that atmospheres are better when supporters stand to watch a game. The best grounds to play at in England tend to be those where there are more fans on their feet, such as Liverpool, Everton and Crystal Palace.
Away supporters make more noise than home fans, man for man, and they are more likely to stand.
German teams in particular – notably Borussia Dortmund, with their vibrant, 25,000-capacity South Stand – have shown that the technology now exists to incorporate standing sections in a safe way.
Celtic have experimented with it and now Shrewsbury Town have indicated that they would like to be the first English league club to try the so-called rail seats, which can be folded away to allow for standing.
I would like to see England’s biggest teams follow suit in the coming seasons.
It’s one of the few ways to make the Premier League better. It is a relatively inexpensive way for clubs to increase the capacity of their stadiums, as it doesn’t require major construction work. That’s good news not only for fans but also for broadcasters, who would prefer to televise a buoyant, standing crowd than someone sitting down eating a sandwich.
Of course, not everyone wants to stand. But I think at least 25 per cent would favour it and, in any case, we are only talking about adapting one end of the ground – preferably behind a goal – initially, at least.
There are some who remain opposed to a return to standing, pointing to the horrors of the Hillsborough tragedy. However, I think that many of the issues that contributed to that disaster, such as fences and access in and out of stadiums, have been removed or changed.
Its use in Germany and Celtic show that standing in designated areas is safe – and probably safer than doing so in all-seater grounds, as happens now, where stewards find it difficult to police due to the numbers.
The game has changed – it had to – but now there is a positive alternative. It’s a way to get more people into games, enjoy a better atmosphere, and generate more money for clubs as well as an improved product to be sold to broadcasters. This can benefit everyone.