A request from the Football League to implement rail seating in 21 grounds that are not subject to all-seater requirements has been accepted by the Sports Grounds Safety Authority (SGSA), the governing body responsible for stadium safety.
In a letter to the clubs that was written by the Football League’s chief executive, Shaun Harvey, it was revealed that the SGSA has agreed “to establish a process” whereby rail seating such as the type used in Germany’s Bundesliga and at Celtic Park can be introduced, UK newspaper the Guardian reports.
“This is the first time the SGSA have signalled that rail seating could be licensed for use at English and Welsh football grounds,” Harvey wrote.
“In practice, I think it’s fairly unlikely that clubs will choose to take up this opportunity given they are already permitted to utilise traditional terracing and because of the significant cost of installing rail seating. Additionally, the government is not currently minded to allow these clubs to use rail seating at all (in either standing or seated mode) if they become subject to the all-seater policy at a future point. Although it is closely monitoring the installation of 3,000 rail seats at Celtic Park.
“Nonetheless, the symbolic value of this decision should not be overlooked as I believe it demonstrates an encouraging direction of travel that will hopefully lead to further progress on our other aims in the period ahead. It is also recognition that the representations we are making about EFL clubs wanting to offer fans a modern and safe supporter experience in seats and on terraces is increasingly being heard and understood.”
He added: “Our objective remains to secure the opportunity for any of our clubs to have standing accommodation at their stadiums and we will continue to lobby on this basis.”
According to a report regarding safe standing by professional service company KPMG earlier this month, the approach towards the issue does vary across different leagues despite some similarities in the legislation of each country.
For example, the Article 13 of the English Football League ground regulations states “nobody may stand in any seating area whilst play is in progress”. The regulations apply to teams in the top-tier Premier League and second-tier Championship.
However, a vote in 2014 saw the majority of Football League clubs in favour of four questions relating to safe standing. It included encouraging the minister for sport to review all-seater stadium arrangements for Championship clubs and whether to lobby the SGSA to allow rail seating. However, the UK government “remains unconvinced” by the case to reintroduce safe standing to Premier League and Championship football grounds in England, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport said in a report.
While 16 of the 18 teams in the German Bundesliga top-tier club competition have some safe standing areas in place, the trend is yet to fully catch on in other countries and leagues across the continent.
National legislation in England, France, Italy and Spain states that each venue must provide a numbered seat for each spectator, and although this does not strictly refer to ticket-holders having the right to stand, it does not permit the introduction of safe standing areas.
The Football Supporters’ Federation welcomed the latest development, although Peter Daykin, the co-ordinator of the safe standing campaign, believes it has only opened the door to the possibility and plenty of work must still be done to achieve their goal. “This represents more progress in the campaign to reintroduce standing at top-flight football and as such is extremely welcome,” he said.
Before rail seating could be considered in the Premier League and Championship, there are a number of issues, such as the sensitivities around the Hillsborough Disaster, that would need addressing.
While groups such as the Hillsborough Family Support remain against any move to allow standing in major English stadiums, the Liverpool supporters’ group Spirit of Shankly has begun seeking guidance on the matter. The Hillsborough Justice Campaign also stated it would fully support any debate of the issues of safe standing.
However, Premier League clubs agreed further talks last month on the possibility of introducing safe standing at grounds in November, and recently Manchester United was reported to be considering how it could be incorporated into plans for expansion of Old Trafford. An online survey was also sent out to Arsenal supporters in January by a fan group about the possible introduction of safe standing in certain areas of the team’s Emirates Stadium.
Daykin said: “We hope the outcome, after proper consultation, will be that they (Premier League) join their EFL colleagues in pushing the British government for a change in the law so clubs and supporters can begin to experience more choice in how we all watch football – whether that’s from seats, dual purpose technologies like rail seating or existing safe terraces.”