By Paul Nicholson at Soccerex, Manchester
September 5 – A meeting at the end of this year between the Sports Grounds Safety Authority and the government will be the next stage to deciding whether standing areas will be allowed to return to top flight English football.
The lobby to introduce safe standing sections to English football grounds has been growing in strength as clubs have failed to effectively deal with persistent standing at all-seat stadia.
Speaking at the Soccerex convention in Manchester, Ken Scott, chief executive of the Sports Grounds Safety Authority, said: “We are mindful of the high tendency of people who choose not to sit. There is an issue with persistent standing and the situation is getting worse.”
While Scott recognised that persistant standing is unsafe and that a solution needed to be found, he did issue words of caution saying: “The government is not minded or change their policy. Since 1989 and the introduction of seats we have not had any stadium disasters. Any shift in policy will be balanced against that fact.”
The trigger for the introduction of all-seat stadia was the Taylor report in 1990 following the Hillsborough tragedy. But with the Hillsborough inquest now completed and even a poll of Liverpool fans voting 88% in favour of safe standing, the movement for its reintroduction looks to be gathering an air of inevitability.
Central to the debate is the recognition of a product that could be installed in stadia that as near as possible guarantees safety.
Celtic have blazed a trail in Scotland with the introduction of safe standing areas that accommodate for 3,000 fans. Park Head stadium manager Robin Buchanan said that the club had a waiting list of fans who wanted to get tickets for those areas of the ground.
Celtic have used a Ferco rail seating system to replace the conventional seats which Scott said is a good model for the type of system that could be implemented.
Ferco’s Celtic model is a 1-for-1 replacement of existing seats with rail seats, though under existing rules the space allowed per spectator could mean that more tickets could be sold – if the design is right almost to the level of 2-for-1, increasing a ground’s capacity.
Jon Darch of the Football Supporters Federation, a strong advocate of safe standing areas, said they did not expect that safe standing areas would reduce the price of tickets.
To introduce standing back into English football grounds does not require a change in legislation as the current rules are a government policy.
A key influencer in any final decision is expected to be the Premier League’s position on safe standing following its own review expected to be completed before the year end.
If the Premier League falls in favour of re-introducing standing areas then those who like to sing standing up will be crowing.
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