This season, for the first time since 1998, football supporters will officially be allowed to stand at matches in international club competitions organized by UEFA, after European football's governing temporarily overturned a ban on standing.
In a statement on Wednesday, UEFA announced that its executive committee had approved the launch of the "Standing Facilities Observer Program 2022/23," which will allow the sale of general admission standing tickets at Champions League, Europa League and Conference League games.
The trial program is limited to participating clubs from the top five UEFA member associations where standing is already permitted domestically, namely: England, Germany and France. Spanish and Italian clubs would also have been included, but none of the participating clubs from those countries have adequate standing sections.
'Europe wants to stand!'
The move is particularly good news for German clubs who have previously been forced to convert large standing terraces — commonplace in the Bundesliga — into seating sections when playing in international competition, reducing stadium capacity and depriving supporters of a key element of their fan culture.
Borussia Dortmund's 81,365-capacity Westfalenstadion, for example, has previously been limited to 66,099 for Champions League and Europa League games, due mainly to the conversion of the 24,454-capacity Südtribüne, the club's famous "Yellow Wall" standing terrace, into a seated stand.
For Union Berlin, the new program means that another move into the city's Olympiastadion, home of local rivals Hertha BSC, may no longer be necessary in the Europa League this season. Union's own Stadion an der Alten Försterei is unique in that over 18,000 of its 22,000 places are unreserved standing, meaning it did not fulfill previous UEFA requirements.
"We're delighted about this decision, since it opens up the chance for us to play European matches in our stadium for the first time in our history," said Union club president Dirk Zingler. "We shall discuss the necessary infrastructural adjustments with UEFA and implement them as soon as possible."
German fans have long been at the forefront of campaigns for a return to standing in UEFA competitions, with banners reading "Europe wants to stand!" commonly displayed by Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich supporters.
Indeed, even on terraces converted to seated sections, fans in reality have continued to stand — only with the added danger of plastic seats beneath their feet rather than specially-designed terracing. There have also been isolated cases of Eintracht Frankfurt and Cologne fans physically removing rows of seats that had been installed on their terraces.
'Standing is an important part of our football culture'
"This is fantastic news," said Borussia Dortmund CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke. "Standing is an important part of our football culture and Borussia Dortmund has been campaigning intensively for years behind the scenes to allow standing terraces in international competition."
Eintracht Frankfurt board member Philipp Reschke said: "This is a smart decision by UEFA, which we deeply appreciate. We want our fans to support our team in the best possible conditions and in line with the traditions we see week-in week-out here in Germany. Standing terraces are an integral part of that."
Gregor Weinreich, coordinator of the "Europe Wants to Stand" campaign and board member of the fan campaign group Football Supporters Europe (FSE), called the decision "an historic victory for the European supporters' movement," adding:
"We welcome the evolution of UEFA towards an evidence-based safety and security policy, taking into account the needs and expectations of active fans. For our members, our 'Europe Wants to Stand' campaign has always been about giving fans a choice in how to support their team in a safe manner."
Erroneous standing ban
UEFA banned standing terraces in European competition in 1998, following the lead of the English Football Association, which had outlawed standing at football matches in accordance with the Taylor Report into the 1989 Hillsborough Disaster, which led to the deaths of 97 people. Four years earlier, 39 people had died in a crush at the European Cup final in Heysel, Belgium.
The Taylor Report concluded that standing football fans had themselves contributed to the tragedy at Hillsborough, a line picked up by the British government and media at the time and in years to come, with top English football ground converted to all-seater stadia. A later inquiry found in 2016, however, that negligent policing, inadequate stewarding and poor stadium design were to blame for Hillsborough, not the supporters themselves.
Since then, several English clubs have been given the green light to reintroduce so-called "safe standing" sections, including Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool, Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur, who will also be able to operate them in European competition this season.
"The aim of the [Standing Facilities Observer Program] is to enable UEFA to observe the ordinary use of a range of different standing facilities in the participating countries of England, France and Germany, over the coming season," explained UEFA General Secretary Theodore Theodoridis.
"These observations, carried out by independent experts, will guide future decisions on standing at UEFA competitions. We know and understand how much active fans contribute to the game and we [want] to ensure fans get to live their passion in the safest possible way."
Edited by: Jon Shelton