There are new hopes for the introduction of “safe standing” at English football grounds, as it emerged that campaigners are trying to bypass the legislative process in their push for the introduction of rail seating.
Those seeking to allow new standing arrangements at English grounds – led by the Football Supporters’ Federation – favour the building of new sections of rail seating, rather than a return to old terraces. Rail seating, as used in many German grounds, means fold-down seats with metal rails on top. These allow supporters the option of sitting down should they want to, or being able to stand with more security than they have now.
Bristol City unveiled three rows of rail seats at Ashton Gate, which will be used first by Bristol Rugby Club when they move into the ground next year. Bristol City, if the Football League agreed, would like to be considered as a safe standing pilot scheme.
Campaigners had assumed that to allow safe standing back into English football they would need to change legislation which came in after the Taylor Report into the Hillsborough disaster. The report suggested that all grounds in England’s top two tiers should be all-seated.
But there is a new confidence that the nature of rail seating means that it could be introduced at Premier League stadiums without needing legislative permission for a return to standing. All that would be needed is the permission of local police, councils and the Sports Grounds Safety Authority (SGSA), who regulate English safety at football grounds.
John Leech MP, the Liberal Democrat spokesman for culture, media and sport and a campaigner for safe standing, was confident that change, bypassing Parliament, was possible even before the general election due in May 2015. “It could be done very easily,” Leech told The Independent. “It is just the political will that needs to be changed.”
Some supporters’ groups are lobbying their club to replace some seats with rail seats, paving the way for safe standing. “There is no reason why you can’t put a rail seat in a Premier League ground,” a spokesman for Manchester United Supporters Trust (MUST) said, “because it complies with the regulations for an all-seater, provided you are only selling one ticket per seat.”
The final barrier would be the SGSA, which oversees all such arrangements at British grounds. Its position is that rail seats would be allowed only if the seat was permanently locked down and could not fold up but campaigners are hopeful of showing that introducing unlocked rail seats would naturally make standing easier.
At a Football League meeting in Derby last week, 70 per cent of the 72 member clubs voted to reconsider safe standing, and the league is now in favour. The Football League will lobby the DCMS on a change in policy later this year. Aston Villa said they would be keen to trial the use of rail seats at Villa Park to help promote the introduction of safe standing in the Premier League.