The case for safe standing at Dalymount is a good one

Wed, Aug 31 2016

Dalymount Park as it stands. Credit: Eoin Smith

Ahead of TheStadiumBusiness Design & Development Summit in Manchester in November, Bohemians director Daniel Lambert gave an interview to the event organisers about the ongoing re-development of Dalymount Park.


There are a couple of uncertain points made in the interview, both with respect to the proposed joint tenancy with Shelbourne, which doesn't appear to be concluded, and the claims of current and future attendances.


Nevertheless, Lambert's interview contains a number of interesting ideas about what the post-renovation Dalymount Park may look like.


The most interesting – and perhaps the most important – of these is the concept that a 10,000-capacity Dalymount Park could incorporate safe standing, which fan groups in England and Scotland have sought to introduce since the imposition of all-seater stadiums post-Hillsborough.


“We have looked at safe standing terrace options for parts of the stadium and as a club it is something we would probably be in favour of as it adds to the atmosphere,” says Lambert.


“About 30% of our fans stand up in seating areas anyway. However, the final decision depends on the council.”


While Ireland has never fully embraced the idea of all-seater stadiums – and in the GAA, terracing is common and largely unproblematic – its spread has probably accentuated the general decline of conditions in most Irish football grounds.


While the away sections in places like Dalymount and Oriel Park are nominally safe, the general dilapidation of spaces that could more easily be maintained if terracing was in place is a blight on the experience for fans.


Anybody who's attended games in the League of Ireland in recent years will be aware that every team has, to a varying degree, a section of fans who prefer to remains standing during games.


These fans tend to congregate together – whether in 'ultras' groupings or just among like-minded fans – and support their team in a more physically active way than the majority who prefer to sit.


Ultras and fan groups at various clubs – from Shamrock Rovers Ultras and Bohemians' Notorious Boo Boys to Drogheda United's Famous 45 and Longford Town's Section O – have sought to improve the atmosphere at their clubs in this way.


Yet, unlike more popularly-attended leagues like Scotland and England – there has never been a movement in Ireland to revive the traditional terrace culture of old, in part because low attendances and underdeveloped stadiums have meant it never really went away.


The re-development of Dalymount Park, at the cost of €20 million in addition to the close to €4 million paid by Dublin City Council to buy the stadium, means there is a real opportunity for a top-class municipal stadium to point a new way forward and provide an improved experience for all.


For those who prefer to sit – the majority – Irish football grounds remain primarily seated. For those who likes to stand to get behind their team, it makes sense they'd have rails to lean on rather than seats to trip over.


The investigation into the policing disaster that led to the deaths of 96 Liverpool fans who were crushed to death in the terraces of Sheffield Wednesday's stadium in 1989 rightly instructed that stadiums be built to ensure the tragedy was never repeated.


The all-seater model has proved problematic in England in particular, however, as it's partly contributed to the decline of terrace culture that, while sometimes violent and rarely fatal, was a vital element of English football.


The reaction to what happened in Hillsborough has largely been positive – although the fact the Justice for the 96 group had to wait until 2015 for some measure of justice was abhorrent – and it is completely understandable why a return to terracing would evoke memories of that catastrophe.


But modern stadiums – even the likes of Tallaght and Eamonn Deacy Park in Ireland – are light years ahead of stadiums in the UK during the Seventies and Eighties, both in terms of base facilities and their concern for the safety of those who attend them.


There is a real opportunity for modern stadiums – those with the backing and authority of competent owners to ensure they're built and maintained to a high spec – to create safe-standing spaces that benefit everybody.


The dangers inherit in old-style terraces are well-known and well-documented, and the permeance of hooligan culture in the pre-Hillsborough era meant well-meaning measures of restrain fans ultimately turned out to be fatal.


However, there's an opportunity, if Dalymount can be a test case, for safe standing, comfortable and behind rails, to lead the way for a new era of fan culture in Irish football. And it's an opportunity I feel it would be a shame to miss.