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A History of Safe Standing

When Orlando City opens its new stadium in 2016, it will become the first North American stadium to offer safe standing.

Sascha Steinbach/Getty Images

Friday morning Orlando City SC unveiled its plans for the club's expanded stadium, which should open in 12 to 14 months. While many adjustments were made to accommodate the expanded seating capacity, supporters group members were only focused on one thing for their stand-alone section -- safe standing.

Standing terraces are seen as an essential, not just for MLS supporters groups, but by fans around the world. Usually situated behind the goals, fans stand and sing support toward their local team. However, due to safety concerns, many stadiums around the world have decided to become all-seater stadiums, which many claim has ruined the atmosphere at once raucous venues.

Most stadiums in Europe trace back to the early 1900s. They were generally built with standing terraces which consisted of either a slope of steps, where fans could stand to watch the game, or a natural embankment created by a nearby quarry or spoil tip. Clubs eventually put rails on these terraces, so that those standing could have something to lean on as they viewed the spectacle.

Fans would find a spot that fit their needs, with children often heading towards the front so they could see the action, and that would become their weekly location to watch the local team play.

In the 1970s, hooliganism took over Britain and eventually Europe. Fighting on the terraces throughout the continent became commonplace, creating danger for those around. These disturbances were often caused by people attending games that had little or no interest in the on-the-field activity, but were just in attendance to cause trouble.

The troubles on the terraces led to clubs around Europe introducing segregated sections to keep the terrace culture separated from the rest of the stadium. They also introduced fencing which would protect the players and referees from "pitch invasions" or other disturbances that might otherwise spill onto the field.

Heading into the 1980s, violence on the terraces was at an all-time high. To make matters worse, underinvestment in stadiums created a dangerous situation where many of the continent's venues were literally crumbling under the feet of the fans.

The first incident resulting in a call for change came on May 29, 1985. During the 1985 UEFA Champions League final at the Heysel Stadium in Brussels, Belgium, trouble began when fans of the two finalists, Liverpool FC and Juventus FC, began to fight. When Liverpool fans attempted to reach their opposition, a concrete wall fell on the Juventus fans fleeing from the scene, killing 39 fans, most of whom were Italian.

Four years later, on April 15, 1989, an event occurred which was seen as the end of standing terraces in many countries. The 1989 FA Cup semifinal between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest was to take place at Hillsborough Stadium in Sheffield, England. As Liverpool fans entered the stadium, they headed straight into the standing terrace behind the goal which, like many stadiums in Britain, had been turned into segregated pens. As fans continually poured into the pen behind the goal, unaware of a nearly empty pen around the corner, those in front began to be crushed by those in the back who continued to flow in. This human crush resulted in the death of 96 Liverpool fans.

Following the Hillsborough disaster, the British government issued an inquiry, titled the Hillsborough Stadium Disaster Inquiry Report. It would become known as the Taylor Report, as it was led by Lord Taylor of Gosforth. Among other findings, the report recommended that all major stadiums in Britain become all-seater stadiums.

While it may be more famous, the Taylor Report wasn't the first to make these recommendations. On Jan. 2, 1971 in a Scottish "Old Firm" game between Celtic and Rangers held at the latter's Ibrox Stadium, a crowd crush caused the death 66 fans and more than 200 injuries. The incident led to the creation of the "Guide to Safety at Sports Grounds," or "Green Guide," by the Sports Grounds Safety Authority, which would dictate what was considered a safe stadium.

Unfortunately, most clubs throughout Britain ignored it. But after Hillsborough in 1989, following the guide became mandatory in 1990. In 1998, UEFA followed suit, making it a requirement among clubs and countries in European competition.

Most soccer fans throughout the continent saw this as the end of terrace culture in Europe. But nearly a decade later, one country found a loophole, Germany.

Safe standing is a technological advancement where standing areas can quickly and easily be turned into all-seater stands. Using a locking mechanism, bolt-on-seats, or aluminum foldaways, seats can be released and brought down for continental and international games, where standing terraces are banned and lifted and locked in an upright position for domestic games, where standing is encouraged. When locked, it creates a standing terrace with rails, which leave rows of safety barriers.

The first club to utilize safe standing was Werder Bremen at their Weserstadion about 10 years ago. Today, half of the Bundesliga's 18 clubs have some form of safe standing. The most famous is the south stand at Borussia Dortmund's Signal Iduna Park. The 25,000-capacity stand creates "The Yellow Wall," a name which Orlando City borrowed to create "The Wall" for its first MLS season.

When Orlando City's new stadium opens in 2016, it will be the first stadium in North America to include a safe standing supporters section. The club's north stand, which will house the supporters groups, will welcome the new style, which has been so successful in Germany and that fans around the world are asking for. Fans from around MLS hope it will soon be used around the league.

Over the past century, standing at soccer games has become an integral part of the experience for fans worldwide. For many, that experience has been taken away due to safety concerns. But in Germany, they found an answer with safe standing. And when Orlando City opens its new stadium in a year's time, due to fans' requests, the club will offer the accommodation.