Man United keeps fingers crossed on rail seating bid


Manchester United Safe Standing Image: MJR Group Ltd./Coliseum

Manchester United – has officially submitted their application to create its first safe standing section at Old Trafford.

The 76,000-capacity football stadium Old Trafford is the home facility of The Red Devils.

Old Trafford is likely to be the third Premier League stadium to boast a safe standing section, perhaps before the season ends. Media reports stated that the application has been filed couple of weeks back. The notion has been filed to the Safety Advisory Group (comprising local authorities and emergency/safety services) back in December 2019.

Contingent upon how much time the official procedures take, the safe standing section could come up even before the end of the current season. It covers a section of 1,500 seats within the north-western quadrant, from the architectural perspective, the youngest part of Old Trafford.

The club is still waiting to hear from the Trafford Safety Advisory Group vis-à-vis getting the go-ahead for their proposals. Manchester United is reportedly awaiting confirmation on whether they will be allowed to install 1,500 ‘rail seats’ before the end of this season.

If everything is on track and the application gets the nod, it would make the ‘Theatre of Dreams’ the third stadium in Premier League to enjoy safe standing, joining the likes of Wolverhampton’s Molineux Stadium and Tottenham Hotspur Stadium – both in UK.

A pilot could take place before the end of this season, depending on how quickly the club receives a response.

Tottenham Hotspur and Wolverhampton Wanderers (Wolves) have already installed railed seating areas in their arenas and it is understood that Manchester United was in talks with these clubs to find out more about the processes involved as part of a “detailed and comprehensive study” into the feasibility of safe standing.

The news comes just after an encouraging interim report by the Sports Grounds Safety Authority (SGSA) to the British politician and Sports Minister Nigel Adams. The document highlights the fact that safe standing is indeed safer than a regular seating segment.

The club was mulling for quite a few months and conducting a consultation from September last year onwards to bring rail seating section to the North East quadrant of Old Trafford.

It also follows changes in the latest edition of the Green Guide (Guide to Safety at Sports Grounds), considered an international standard for stadium safety and a guidance book on spectator safety at sports grounds. It finally permits the formation of safe standing sections.

Man United held dialogue with supporters’ in this regard in September last year, with a par of the course outcome. Fans have wholeheartedly supported The Red Devils’ bid to come up with a safe standing section. Supporters have been seeking a standing area for quite a few years now.

In minutes from a fan forum meeting held recently, a Man United spokesperson said, “As previously communicated, the club is in favor of rail seating in parts of Old Trafford in principle.”

The spokesperson further informed, “We have recently conducted a study into the feasibility of a rail seating trial within the stadium. A formal proposal was made to the local Safety Advisory Group in December 2019 to request a trial in a small section of the stadium (up to 1,500 seats in the North East Quadrant). Our belief is that the introduction of rail seating will enhance spectator safety in areas of the stadium where – as with other clubs – we have seen examples of persistent standing.”

The spokesperson added, “The SAG committee is reviewing the request. This is not an automatic approval process. We will discuss the proposal in detail with the relevant authorities and will work through their compliance and review processes.”

Jon Darch, representative of the safe standing campaign group, commented, “It is fantastic news that the world’s most famous club is seeking to enhance spectator safety in this way.”

A spokesperson for Trafford Council said, “Trafford Council has received an application from Manchester United to trial rail seating inside the Old Trafford stadium. We are in discussions with the club regarding the proposal.”

Thanks to a guideline change, clubs are now permitted to install seats with barriers in their stadiums where they see persistent standing problems.

Man United have experienced long-running problems with fans refusing to sit down in parts of their all-seater Old Trafford ground but rail seats are so designed to lock into a folded position, giving fans space to stand.

“We hope to see this progress as quickly as possible as we have long argued that rail seats are a safety enhancement as well as popular with many fans whether they prefer to stand or indeed prefer to remain seated throughout the game in other areas with an unobstructed view,” a statement from the Manchester United Supporters Trust (M.U.S.T) stated.

“The North East Quadrant (lower) was selected initially as it has been an area where persistent standing has been established dating back over more than six years,” the statement further read.

Rail seating is hugely popular in Germany’s Bundesliga and is used by Scottish club Celtic but while Tottenham Hotspur’s new stadium is adapted with rail seating and Wolverhampton Wanderers installed some in a stand at Molineux, they are not allowed to operate safe standing areas.

Standing is an option that followers of Premier League and Championship (second-tier) clubs have largely been denied since the 1990 Taylor Report ordered clubs in the top two tiers to convert to all-seater stadiums by 1994 in the wake of the 1989 Hillsborough disaster in which 96 Liverpool fans lost their lives in a crush during an FA Cup semi-final.

However, many say that lack of standing section does not lend the “vibrant atmosphere” to a stadium on game days coupled with dangers of fans standing in seated areas.

The seats permit people to stand against a barrier while watching matches and it is hoped this will improve the safety quotient.

‘Positive impact’

A report from the Sports Grounds Safety Authority recently stated that rail seating could have a “positive impact on spectator safety” while the Government said it would work with fans’ groups to introduce safe standing areas.

Sports Minister Nigel Adams said there was still more work to be done and that safety was the priority, but added, “Over a million people watch live football at a ground every week, and having spoken to fans across the country, I know that safe standing is an issue many feel passionately about.”

While top-flight clubs must await a Government decision on safe standing, third-tier Shrewsbury Town in 2018 became the first club in England and Wales to install rail seating.

The Premier League and Football League have both said they will support clubs choosing to implement safe standing if local authorities allow the same.

“We were told many times over the years that we were wasting our time and it would never happen. Finally, we can see the end is in sight,” M.U.S.T stated.

Darch observed, “I can see no reason why (the Sports Minister) shouldn’t give Spurs, Wolves, Man United and any other club fitting such seats the green light to operate safe standing as soon as the seats are in place and the safety authorities are happy.”

The Sports Grounds Safety Authority is conducting a season-long study on the safety risks of standing in stadiums.

The findings of an interim report on the study unfolded that setting up barriers in seated areas at football grounds such as the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium and Molineux has “mitigated the risk of crowd collapse” when fans go delirious during ‘goal moments’.

United has always advocated the idea of safe standing, and the Government is keen to deliver its manifesto pledge of overseeing its introduction.

Safe standing

Safe standing is the generic term for a mechanism built into a stadium that allows spectators to either stand or sit depending on how it is installed.

The most common form is rail seating. This consists of folding seats incorporated into robust metal frame that forms a waist-high rail for the spectators in the row behind.

Seats can be locked down when the event requires seating, or locked up when spectators are allowed to stand in that space.

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