Fans push for safe standing as Premier League trials inch closer
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images
Norwich City fan groups have called for plans for safe standing areas at Carrow Road to move forward, as trials in the Premier League look set to take place.
The government is hoping to conduct safe standing pilots this season, sports minister Nigel Huddleston has said.
He said in a tweet on Sunday evening: "We are working closely with the Sports Ground Safety Authority to see if we can introduce a number of safe standing pilots this season before we consider a widespread rollout.
"Safety of fans will be absolutely paramount. More detail will come in due course."
The introduction of designated safe standing areas would mean an end to the blanket ban on standing in the top two divisions of English football which has been in place for over 25 years.
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Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea have already installed rail seating over the summer, but there is no guarantee those clubs would be part of any initial pilot.
Norwich City has been at the forefront of the debate, with Ed Balls in 2018 helping secure fans a meeting to discuss the issue with then-sports minister Tracy Crouch, who is currently carrying out a fan-led review of football.
Robin Sainty, chairman of the Canaries Trust, said: “We have been very closely involved with it all the way through and we are absolutely delighted that things are now moving forward.
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“Logically these pilots are going to be at grounds that already have rail seating but I know that Norwich looked into this in some considerable detail two or three years ago, so I would think they would be in a position to move ahead relatively quickly if it all gets the green light.”
Andy Lawn, of Barclay End Norwich, a fan group that aims to improve the atmosphere at Norwich City matches, said: “This has been long overdue. I think it will be really good for fans because it will eliminate some of that tension where some people want to sit and some want to stand.”
In 2018, a decision by the Norfolk Safety Advisory Group meant the club had to relocate 17 under-16s and 18 accompanying adults from the lower tier of the Barclay Stand because of issues with fans standing.
Last year members of Norwich City and the safety advisory group at Norfolk County Council were shown around a safe seating system installed at Wolverhampton Wanderers’ Molineux Stadium.
Greg Pillinger, Norwich City’s head of operations and projects, told a fan consultation evening in February this year that installing similar rail seating at Carrow Road was “still high on the agenda”.
“When the finances allow, we’ll look to progress it,” he added.
David Wiltshire, of Barclay End Norwich, said: “We've had regular contact with the club and they're certainly in favour of it. We don't know timescales at this stage but we have no doubt it will happen.
“It's been a 20-year campaign and a lot has happened and changed in that time. Standing at football has been far more accepted in recent years, but it'll be great to formalise it with designated areas of purpose built rail seating.”
Mr Lawn added: “Hopefully we will be at the forefront to get it installed, especially in the Barclay and potentially other areas of Carrow Road.
“I think it would be excellent for the atmosphere and will allow groups of like minded people to get together which all-seater stadiums don’t do particularly well.”
Standing areas in what is now the Premier League and Championship were outlawed by legislation passed in the wake of the 1989 Hillsborough disaster, which led to the deaths of 97 Liverpool fans.
The Football Supporters' Association has been a crucial lobbying force on the subject, via its 'Stand Up For Choice' campaign.
The Conservative government promised to look at the issue of safe standing in its manifesto for the 2019 General Election, and Labour and the Liberal Democrats also pledged to update the legislation, so are likely to be supportive of planned trials.
Safe standing - all you need to know
What is 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 a metal frame that forms a waist-high rail for the spectators in the row behind, with the same spacing as standard seats.
Seats can be locked down when the event requires seating, or locked up when spectators are allowed to stand in that space.
Why do supporters want rail seating?
Rail seating has been used in Germany's Bundesliga for over a decade - almost half the clubs there now use it.
Celtic became the first British club to install it in 2016, having gained a "safe standing" certificate after years of negotiations with supporters, football authorities and Glasgow City Council.
Despite all-seater stadiums being introduced following the recommendations of Lord Justice Taylor into the 1989 Hillsborough disaster, football supporters still want to stand at matches and do so on a regular basis, especially amongst away fans and in the traditionally more passionate areas of grounds like the Lower Barclay Stand at Carrow Road.
Why is rail seating safer than normal seats?
Rail seated sections bear no resemblance to the terraces and pens of the pre-Hillsborough era. There are no crush barriers, no lateral or perimeter fences and every spectator has the same amount of personal space they would have in a conventional seat.
Current lower back-style seating can see standing fans falling forwards or backwards especially during goal celebrations. Waist-high rails would prevent this.