Man United gets nod on barrier seating pilot



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Manchester United seating change Image: MJR Group Ltd./Coliseum

English Premier League football club Manchester United has got the go-ahead to proceed with the pilot run of barrier seating at Old Trafford. The club hopes to complete the work in time when fans will be able to return to the stadium once again after the coronavirus dust settles down.

The club held positive talks with Trafford Council prior to the coronavirus outbreak and will now install barrier seating – standing with rails – following a change in safety guidelines.

Manchester United Football Club is a professional football club based in Old Trafford, Greater Manchester, England, that competes in the Premier League, the top flight of English football.

Old Trafford is a football stadium in Old Trafford, Greater Manchester, England, and the home arena of Manchester United. Boasting a capacity of 74,879, it is the largest club football stadium in the United Kingdom, and the eleventh largest in Europe.

Earlier this year, ‘The Red Devils’ submitted a proposal to the Trafford Council following changes to the Sports Grounds Safety Authority (SGSA) Guide to Safety at Sports Grounds (Green Guide) and a subsequent feasibility study which was carried out by the club. The approval obtained for the barrier seating trial was conveyed to fans at a Fans’ Forum held recently and follows extensive discussions held with Manchester United Supporters’ Trust (MUST) and the Fans’ Forum in recent years.

The Trafford Council giving the nod means an agreement in principle for the club to set up around 1,500 barrier seats in the North East Quadrant, in Sections N2401 and N2402. United said it will now discuss with potential suppliers installation options, working within the guidelines laid down by the present UK Government relating to construction site operating procedures and social distancing to be maintained during the COVID-19 pandemic. Talks will also be held with the SGSA to ratify the requisite changes to be made to the club’s stadium licence.

Remarked Richard Arnold, Manchester United’s Group Managing Director, “It should be stated upfront that our overwhelming priority is to keep our people safe from the COVID-19 pandemic. It may seem strange to talk about stadium plans at this time, but football and our fans will return when it is safe, and our preparations for that must continue in the background.”

“This announcement is the latest step in what has been a long journey with our fans. We have listened to their feedback, in particular the representations made by MUST, and worked with Trafford Council to develop and approve this proposal,” Arnold added.

“Our belief is that the introduction of barrier seats will enhance spectator safety in areas of the stadium where – as with other clubs – we have seen examples of persistent standing. It also allows us to future-proof the stadium in the event of any changes to the current all-seater stadium policy. If the trial is successful, we may consider further implementation of barrier seating in other parts of the stadium,” he further noted.

“We will now move on to develop the installation, compliance and licensing plan for the trial with a view to having the new seats installed for when we can welcome our supporters back to Old Trafford,” Arnold observed.

In February this year it was revealed that ‘The Red Devils’ had made a formal request to introduce rail seating at Old Trafford. United disclosed last year in September that it was examining the possibility of introducing rail seating at their home facility.

The prospect of safe standing areas returning to stadia across English football took another step forward earlier in February after the SGSA said initial research had indicated that the installation of such solutions has had a “positive impact” on spectator safety.

The Hillsborough tragedy in 1989 led to standing being banned in the top two leagues of English football. The Hillsborough catastrophe claimed the lives of 96 Liverpool fans. However, over the years, there has been a lot of initiative to return to safe standing, which has received provisional support from the Football Association (FA), Premier League and English Football League (EFL), as well as from supporters’ groups.

Wolverhampton Wanderers became the first Premier League club this season to install seats incorporating barriers in an existing stadium. All seats in the Sir Jack Hayward Stand at Molineux have been replaced and in lieu of it has come up a new barrier seating solution. Furthermore, all seats in the stadium’s Stan Cullis quadrant have been fitted with an independent barrier. Both options fully meet the SGSA’s most recent guidance.

The Sir Jack Hayward Stand, otherwise known as the South Bank, lodges the club’s most exuberant fans, the majority of whom prefer to stand, rather than sit, at games. Tottenham Hotspur also fitted rail seating at its recently-opened new stadium.

United also said that the barrier seating pilot is part of bigger plans to develop the facility so as to provide fans an exalted experience. In February this year, Manchester United announced the extension of the ‘atmosphere section’ in the Stretford End in the south-west corner as part of the season ticket launch for 2020-21.

Arnold informed, “Both of these initiatives underline our commitment to the continued improvement of Old Trafford, with a focus on further enhancing the matchday experience, atmosphere and safety for all supporters.”

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