Safe Standing takes another step forward

On Friday, the Football League took a progressive step in sending a consultation document to all 72 clubs seeking their views on Safe Standing. It’s a strong indication that the Football League is seriously considering whether to change it’s view on the issue to date.

For some time the Football Supporters Federation have ran a campaign calling for Safe Standing to be allowed in principle in UK football, and it’s encouraging to hear that they were actively engaged with the Football League as they prepared the consultation document sent to clubs. They point to the successful German model that uses rail seats, which can be flipped up and locked to provide standing space, behind a waist-high rail running across the back of the row in front of you. The seats can retain a specific number for ticketing purposes and then used as seats when required.

We’ve previously nailed the 1FITG colours to the mast in support of Safe Standing – it’s an issue that clubs themselves are increasingly supporting too. For those yet to express an opinion, it’s time to jump off the fence – ideally, liaising with their own fans in helping to make that decision. Polling suggests that 90% of supporters back the choice to sit or stand. 

Rail seating – the main model for Safe Standing

The Football League consultation focuses on four key questions for clubs:

• Should the Football League approach the Minister for Sport to request that the ‘all-seater’ stadia requirement for Championship clubs be reviewed with a view to the re-introduction of standing accommodation?
• Should the Football League approach the Sports Grounds Safety Authority to request that rail seating products be licensed in Football League grounds?
• Should clubs be permitted to accommodate supporters in rail seating in the Championship?
• Should clubs be permitted to revert from seating to standing accommodation in League One and League Two following relegation from the Championship?

This isn’t just a simple question about whether clubs should introduce Safe Standing – it’s merely whether they should be given the option to do so. The issue is about increasing choice – for clubs in how they choose to redevelop their grounds, and for fans who want to enjoy standing at matches in a safe environment. We currently have a dogs dinner of a regulatory environment on this – clubs in Leagues 1 and 2 continue to retain their existing old-style terracing, yet clubs in the top two leagues are not allowed standing areas. Current League 1 clubs like Wolves, Sheffield United and Bradford attract numbers comparable to the Championship – it seems nonsensical for there to be inconsistencies on which leagues permit standing areas.

While the Football League move is encouraging, fans shouldn’t get too excited that we’ll see swift changes. Even if it is accepted that a change should be allowed, it’s unlikely we’ll see a change overnight. A couple of years ago the SPL voted unanimously to allow piloting of Safe Standing. However, at present no club has taken up the option. Finance might be one key reason (why spend money on this if you’re a club running a deficit with no ground redevelopments imminent?), but perhaps cold feet is another – no club is willing to be the ‘guinea pig’, despite existing evidence of its safety and success in Germany. Celtic remain the most likely candidates to take this forward north of the border.

But there are other clubs in the lower leagues that could potentially step up to the plate. Brentford have just received planning permission for a new stadium at Lionel Road. In addition to exploring retention of the four-pubs-for-each-corner fans have enjoyed at Griffin Park, they have previously said that they would consider inclusion of Safe Standing as part of this – their Chief Executive recently confirmed this again in November. Fellow League 1 promotion hopefuls Peterborough went one step further last year with their open appeal to be used to trial Safe Standing in the English leagues – they even paid for their mascot to fly out to Hanover to be used in an FSF video on Safe Standing:

It’s vital that the safety authorities are consulted fully as this develops too. I don’t think any serious advocates of Safe Standing would favour new builds of old-style terracing – any remaining concerns raised by the Sports Ground Safety Authority need to be addresses. Regardless of support-in-principle that some clubs have, the simple reality is that unless there is confidence that Local Authorities’ safety advisory boards will be happy to approve plans with rail seating included, clubs won’t go for it – which is why licensing by the SGSA seems like a logical solution to provide that reassurance and ensure safety.

I enjoy standing at matches – it’s makes for an enjoyable atmosphere, and during a dire 0-0 in freezing conditions can help ensure I leave the ground still able to feel my feet. But I want to stand in an environment I know is safe, and where I’m not annoying anyone around me that wants to sit. Momentum has been gradually building around Safe Standing. At a time where there are concerns up and down the country on the fan experience and affordability of matches, freeing clubs to explore this option is a welcome development.

Written by @josephclift

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