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Government rejects safe standing bid at stadium of Premier League club

PUBLISHED: 13:02 10 April 2018 | UPDATED: 13:02 10 April 2018

Safe standing rail seats at Wolfsburg in Germany. Photo: David Wiltshire

Safe standing rail seats at Wolfsburg in Germany. Photo: David Wiltshire

Archant

The government has rejected a request from a Premier League club to introduce a safe-standing section at its stadium next season.

West Brom, who are bottom of the Premier League and 10 points adrift of safety with five games to play, had hoped to install 3,600 rail seats in the ground’s Smethwick End and have described the decision as “disappointing” and “short-sighted”.

The application was made to the Sports Grounds Safety Authority (SGSA), the government agency set up to regulate sports stadia after the 1989 Hillsborough disaster, and it referred the proposal to the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS).

In a statement, the SGSA said the club’s request was rejected by sports minister Tracey Crouch.

“West Bromwich Albion is subject to the government’s all-seater policy and DCMS have said that they have no current plans to change their position and introduce standing accommodation at grounds in the top two divisions covered by the all-seater policy,” it added.

A DCMS spokesperson confirmed it had “no plans” to change its policy but said it “will continue to monitor the issue of spectator accommodation and the use of safe standing where it is permitted”.

Bosses at Norwich City have expressed ambitions to bring safe standing to Carrow Road with both the city’s MPs adding their thoughts to the debate.

Steve Stone, the club’s managing director, said he wanted the Canaries to be at the forefront of change and that he hoped MPs might join the lobbying to get legislation changed.

Widely used in Germany and successfully piloted at Celtic, rail seats can be flipped up and locked in place to provide a safe space to stand, while still assigning each fan a designated spot in the stadium.

Clubs in English football’s top two tiers, however, have been forced by law to be all-seater ever since Lord Justice Taylor’s report into the tragedy at Hillsborough which left 96 Liverpool fans dead.

The anger, grief and shock caused by Hillsborough meant any debate about the rights and wrongs of standing to watch football was a non-starter for years but that has changed in the last decade.

This is a result of large numbers of fans making it clear they want the choice and many safety experts pointing out that standing itself is not dangerous but standing in seated areas is. It was this last point that prompted West Brom’s director of operations Mark Miles to make the application.

Peter Daykin, head of the Football Supporters’ Federation’s safe standing campaign added: “The whole tenor of the debate on standing has changed massively in recent years, so this is a really disappointing decision.

“West Brom have done brilliantly in seeking out a solution that is best for those supporters who want to stand and those who want to sit.

“They should be applauded for offering to test technology that has been proven to work so well at Celtic, around Europe and the rest of the world.”

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