United Latest Club to Trial Safe Standing - Is it Time for Change?

Manchester United has been given permission by Trafford Council to install 1500 barrier seats (standing with rails) in the North-East corner of Old Trafford. The aim is for the rail seats to be fitted by the time COVID-19 restrictions are lifted and football can be played in front of thousands of supporters again.

Standing at football grounds, in the top two divisions of English football, has been banned since 1994 due to the Taylor report following the Hillsborough disaster of 1989, which led to 96 Liverpool fans tragically losing their lives.

Thankfully ever since this horrific tragedy, the safety of football fans has become an increased priority with every football league club ensuring the spectators have an enjoyable and safe time.

Over the past few years, there has been an ever-growing campaign to implement safe standing back into the top two flights.

The fans’ voices were heard in 2018 when the Sports Ground Safety Authority (SGSA), the body that controls ground safety, granted permission for barrier seating.

The design of barrier seating enables fans to convert their seats, creating an area where they can safely stand, thus further enhancing the atmosphere for the thousands of paying spectators.

United’s managing director, Richard Arnold said: “It may seem strange to talk about stadium plans at this time, but football and our fans will return when safe, and our preparations for that must continue.”

When football does return, hopefully, sooner rather than later for the sanity of us all, Old Trafford will become an even greater cacophony of noise due to safe standing.

Arnold also said: “Our belief is that the introduction of barrier seats will enhance spectator safety in areas of the stadium where we have seen examples of persistent standing.”

Safety experts have supported these claims as they believe that standing in stadiums isn’t the danger, but it is standing in seated areas that can cause harm.

If the trial is successful, it will surely only be a matter of time before an increased number of Premier League and Championship clubs follow suit.

In fact, Wolverhampton Wanderers were first to implement these barriers and were given permission last spring to become the first-ever football club in the United Kingdom to install an entire stand with these barrier style seats. The Sir Jack Hayward stand was fully transformed in September 2019 and has been successful in improving fans’ matchday experience whilst remaining safe.

Wolves’ managing director, Laurie Darlymple said at the time: “97% of season ticket holders in that section were in favour.”

An increased number of top-flight football clubs have begun planning or implementing this barrier seating due to heightened demand from fans.

Findings by the SGSA have recently been welcomed by the government and in February, an interim report was backed by the Sports Minister, Nigel Adams. The final report is due in the summer and has studied Celtic Park, Borussia Dortmund’s Westfalenstadion as well as Shrewsbury Town, Wycombe Wanderers and Oxford United who have trialled the measures.

The SGSA has stated that safe standing “has had a positive impact on spectator safety, particularly in mitigating risk of crowd collapse.”

Although Adams is pleased with these findings, he remains cautious about giving the green light until the more comprehensive report is seen this summer.

He said: “We will work with fans and clubs towards introducing safe standing, however, it is imperative that football remains as safe as it has become over the past 25 years.”

If the findings of the SGSA are deemed to be positive by the government, safe standing is bound to be implemented in numerous stadiums due to the enhanced spectator experience.

The top flights of English football have been criticised recently for the lack of atmosphere. Yet, if Man United, Wolves and Tottenham begin to thrive thanks to the escalating noise created by fans, largely due to these new structures, then I’m sure every club will follow.

Perhaps every football fan’s dream stadium would be the Westfalenstadion, the infamous ‘Yellow Wall’ is one of the great sights of world football.

The German Bundesliga and 2. Bundesliga are clear examples of safe standing working in practice. I’ve often watched in awe of these bouncing terraces on Champions League nights.

Perhaps it is time to allow safe standing in our top two flights; clearly the safety of fans comes first, but these barrier-style locking seats have been tailor-made for safety, and it is clear most fans support this.

With Tottenham and Wolves already having this safe standing and Man United following their example, it is only a matter of time before all 44 clubs of the top two English flights have an area for fans to bounce around in for 90 minutes.

English fans have been crying out for years for their shackles to be released on the terraces, so they can join the likes of the German leagues creating a cauldron of noise whilst standing or leaping around safely.

I believe the safe standing that has been introduced in certain stadiums in England is a must for all clubs and will delight every football fan.

This article was written exclusively for golear.co.uk