SPL to pilot 'safe-standing' areas


Scotland's top-flight clubs have been given the green light to pilot safe standing schemes in their stadiums but Scottish Premier League chief executive Neil Doncaster stressed it does not signal the return to the old-style terracing.

The SPL announced a relaxation of their rules on standing following a general meeting of all 12 clubs today.

Scotland is not bound by the law which banned standing areas in top-flight football in England, which came into force after the Taylor Report into the Hillsborough disaster in 1989.

Doncaster pointed to modern systems used in Europe like 'Rail' where there is a safety barrier and a seat on every row which can be locked for SPL games and unfolded for other competitions, as options for interested clubs.

"There is no suggestion that we are simply opening up the terracings again," he said.

"It is about introducing areas that are safe for standing, like the Rail system that we have seen working successfully in Germany might be considered.

"It won't affect the requirement to have 6,000 covered seats at grounds, that will still remain but over and above that, clubs can bring forward pilot schemes.

"Clearly there is some investment that would be required with clubs.

"That investment may be met by the demand of safe standing that seems to be out there.

"Whenever we do consult with supporters they say, often in numbers, that they would like to see the re-introduction of safe standing.

"Atmosphere is a big part of it. I am of a generation who went to games where safe-standing was allowed.

"That atmosphere is something special and it would certainly add to it at a number of grounds."

Doncaster believes the new pilot schemes could be up and running for season 2012/13.

He said: "Potentially we can receive applications from the word go so in theory it could start as early as next season.

"But it's really up to the clubs. Our rules currently say that no safe-standing is allowed in SPL stadia, so that is at least one hurdle removed.

"There are several stadia where it just can't be done because of the architecture of the stadium but where clubs can look at and wish to do it, this is a step forward."

Celtic and Motherwell are among the clubs who have expressed interest in the idea, although applications for standing areas will also have to be approved by local council safety committees and police.

A Strathclyde Police spokeswoman, however, expressed surprise when asked for a response to the SPL's announcement.

She said: "We have not had any detailed discussions with the SPL around the safe-standing areas.

"We were therefore surprised by this announcement today.

"If the SPL would like to discuss the issue with us then perhaps we would be able to understand what the specific proposals are."

Meanwhile, it was also revealed that, after discussions within the Joint Action Group formed to tackle sectarianism, there will be widening of what constitutes "unacceptable conduct" at SPL games with an independent commission to be set up as the final arbiter.

The SPL have specifically included a ban on the support of terrorist organisations in their rules.

Doncaster said: "That has come out of a lot of good work that has gone on between the Scottish government, the police, Celtic, Rangers, the SFL, the SPL and the SFA and also working with Supporters Direct in Scotland.

"The clubs agreed unanimously that we will back the proposals.

"It is an attempt to raise the bar generally and all of our clubs are keen to ensure that no one believes that there is any lack of enthusiasm to tackle unacceptable conduct within SPL stadia.

"The unanimous backing shows that our clubs are up for the challenge, are up for raising the bar and tackling unacceptable conduct where it occurs."

The introduction of an independent panel comes after criticism the SPL has been too lenient in tackling behaviour by supporters.

Celtic were this month cleared of breaching rules on unacceptable conduct after fans sang pro-IRA songs at a home game against Hibernian, but fined £12,700 by UEFA the following week for an identical offence in a Europa League game.

The SPL noted that Celtic had publicly condemned the chants and had taken all "reasonably practicable" steps to minimise the likelihood of unacceptable conduct and were assisting in the identification and prosecution of offenders.

Earlier this year, Celtic manager Neil Lennon expressed surprise and disappointment the SPL took no action against Hearts over the incident that saw him confronted by a fan on the touchline at Tynecastle.