In the years leading up to the Taylor Report – which followed the tragic deaths of 96 Liverpool fans at the Hillsborough disaster of 1989 – the majority of fans watched football from a standing position and, in the decades since, it has never really gone away, despite the introduction of all-seater stadia.
The demand for standing has increased in recent years and doesn’t look like going away anytime soon because, in my opinion, standing tends to generate more atmosphere. It’s one of the reasons we fall in love with the game. I mean, have you ever seen a choir seated?
There is no evidence to suggest that standing is inherently unsafe and repeated attempts to force supporters to sit have not only failed, but also created conflict between the authorities and supporters.
Of course, not all fans want or are able to stand at the match and supporters standing in front of those who prefer to sit is a significant customer care issue, particularly away from home.
The problem is made worse by current legislation which makes it very difficult for clubs to manage this in a sensible and pragmatic manner as we all want to watch the match in safety but the current system of standing in seated areas is unsafe as many times I’ve witnessed fans tumbling over the seats in front in moments of excitement.
Fans have long been campaigning for safe standing at top-flight stadiums and a petition presented to the government in 2018 got more than 100,000 signatures, leading to sports minister Tracey Crouch commissioning a review into safe standing.
In my opinion rail seats are a safer option and don’t necessarily mean an increase in capacity as – unlike the terraces we all remember from the 1970s and ‘80s – it’s not a case of packing in as many fans as possible; the areas will be ticketed and safety managed.
The model we have proposed is one rail seat to one existing seat and we even worked with the manufacturers to design a solution suitable for the curve at Old Trafford, meaning no spaces would be lost should it be introduced.
I’m more than aware that standing won’t improve the atmosphere at Old Trafford overnight, but feel it will allow for a culture of like-minded fans to develop, who will be able to have a positive impact on the match-going experience – then an atmosphere will hopefully follow.
The introduction of rail seats to allow fans to stand safely is the common-sense approach in my view and we’ve lobbied the government, MPs, political parties, councils, safety advisory groups and put pressure on clubs over a number of years to get us to this position.
Yes, changing legislation, especially in the current political climate, is difficult as Sports Ministers have often been risk averse, which is totally understandable.
However, there was a change to the rules recently in the form of the “Green Guide,” which allowed clubs to introduce areas of rail seats in areas of persistent standing and, although not exactly ideal as it still doesn’t taking into account the views of those who want to sit, the change in legislation is about the best we can hope for at the present time.
Standing at football matches in England’s top two divisions remains illegal and clubs are still expected to enforce the all-seater policy, though the guide says that clubs may only look to, “install seats incorporating barriers or independent rails in areas where persistent standing continues to take place… only once all other measures have been tried.”
In my experience, and during MUST’s meeting with the club on supporter issues, safe standing has always been high on the agenda and as a member of the fans’ forum, I know for a fact that it has been raised at almost every meeting.
The club have always been publicly supportive and privately encouraging of our efforts while on visits to Germany when United played Leverkussen and Wolfsburg, United officials would meet with MUST to see how it works and were encouraged by what they saw.
Although United’s recent statement only mentions a trial in a particular area of the ground we feel that the Genie is now out of the bottle and this is just the beginning when it comes to introducing safe standing areas into English football grounds.
All we are saying is, give supporters the choice. If you attend a rugby match or concert at Old Trafford you can stand, so why not football?
SHREWSBURY TOWN INTRODUCE RAIL SEATS WITH THE HELP OF FANSBET
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