I went to see England Women at St James Park and got my first taste of a new way to watch football

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The Lionesses hosted France at St James Park and the result didn’t spoil a good experience for our reporter.

As a football fan who tends to spend more time following my non league club across parts of Lancashire and Yorkshire on away days, I was excited to have a change of pace on Friday evening when Sarina Wiegman’s England team hosted France in a Euro 2025 qualifier - and I didn’t realised I would see a part of modern football for the first time.

Having bought my ticket for £15 last minute and with the Friday afternoon off, I decided to make the most of the event and soak up the atmosphere as England travel to St James Park to play on Tyneside for the first time, just under one year after they last played in the North East - a win against Scotland in Sunderland.

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Knowing I wasn’t heading to the following Monday’s fixture which would see Gareth Southgate’s mens side host Bosnia and Herzegovina, I arrived in Newcastle in the early evening and headed straight to the ground to take in the build up.

And what a build up it was. As someone who is so used to reading about the more sanitised version of the women’s football fanbase compared to a more intense, less family friendly version usually seen in the men’s game, there were pockets which showed this was a changing theme within the fanbase.

It was far from the ultras marches which we saw hit the streets of the city during Newcastle United’s Champions League campaign last year, but heading into The Strawberry pub for the first time it was a refreshing change to hear chants and the clinking of glasses as the more hardcore fans took their place in the pre match buildup.

This isn’t to say there was a lack of the traditional family trip fans though, and these groups took up the vast majority of the 42,000 attendance on the night, but as someone who loves fan culture and watching these fanbases build, it was a great step in what I believe to be the right direction in a sport which is still growing its support base and style of support.

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Seeing children take their first steps into a stadium and seeing a pitch below them continues to be something I take so much joy in, and seeing families take those steps together at St James Park was no different.

My ticket, as you’d expect for £15, was in the top tier of the Leazes End of St James Park - also known as Level Seven, which gave me a chance to try out something I had yet to see considering most of my football matches are spent at non-league grounds, safe standing rails.

Safe standing in the Leazes End at St James Park.Safe standing in the Leazes End at St James Park.
Safe standing in the Leazes End at St James Park. | Jason Button

These were introduced at St James Park as part of a trail at the start of the 2023-24 season with around 1,800 seats impacted in the south west corner and a similar amount at the top of the Leazes Stand, where away supporters are usually housed for Newcastle games.

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Safe standing is now in place across a handful of English stadiums with these areas typically being put in the most vocal areas of top stadiums to try and encourage better atmospheres while being a way to reintroduce standing to top level football once again. Rails are put in front of seats to stop any fans getting into rows in front or behind, while also allowing a place to lean for weary legs into a second half.

Considering the height of the stand, steepness of the terrace and the amount of people who were around, I was thoroughly impressed with the introduction of the rails which arguably made the entire block feel slightly safer from the steep stand, even if they remained seated.

Unfortunately, this positivity can only go so far when a lacklustre England performance saw the hosts squander a one goal lead to lose 2-1 to a well structured France side. However, for many families and young fans, I can only hope these experiences help fans fall in love with football while the safe standing broadens horizons of what experiencing a game as a match-going football fan can be.

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