A month or so ago, Crystal Palace fans in the Holmesdale Road Stand held up a trio of banners calling for the installation of rail seating at Selhurst Park.
And they’re in good company.
Since 2002, the Football Supporters’ Federation (FSF) has been campaigning for the government to amend the 1989 Football Spectators Act to allow for the introduction of safe standing areas in English stadia.
Based on the findings of a comprehensive and relatively lengthy consultation process, the FSF believes that rail seating offers the most suitable safe standing solution for clubs in England’s top two divisions.
For those of you who’ve never seen a rail seat, they “incorporate a safety barrier and flip down seat on every other row (or step).” These seats “can be locked in an upright position for domestic games, allowing two rows of supporters to stand in between barriers.” This means that supporters can be allocated a designated ‘seat’ and still stand during a game.
At present, twenty-six clubs in the Premier League and Football League back the FSF’s campaign, as do the Scottish Premier League, and over the past few months, officials at Brighton and Hove Albion, West Ham United, and Tottenham Hotspur have all expressed an interest in safe standing. Meanwhile, it looks as though the Premier League’s bigwigs will be discussing the issue at next week’s meeting of league stakeholders.
Of course, the obvious question to ask when presented with all this is “why should the government, governing bodies, and clubs bother changing the status-quo?” Well, I’d suggest that the answers that arise are equally as obvious.
For a start, safe standing has the potential to greatly improve match-day atmosphere—not just because it encourages fans to make a racket and bounce around, but because it allows for the accommodation of a higher density of fans. Indeed, safe standing areas with rail seats can hold up to “80% more supporters than a seated area of similar size.” And that means that ticket prices are usually cheaper in standing areas.
Now, safety is naturally a key concern, especially in light of the Hillsborough disaster, but it’s important to stress that safe standing doesn’t herald a return to the terraces of old. If anything, rail seating will make stadia safer than they are currently, since many fans are forced to stand in areas designed for sitting. As the FSF points out, with “only two rows of fans per barrier there is no danger [that rail seating will result in a] crush or progressive crowd collapse.”
Fortunately, you don’t have to look far to find supporting evidence. Rail seating has recently been introduced in the Lisbon Lions Stand at Celtic Park, with the Bhoys’ Chief Executive, Peter Lawwell, stating that the initiative “represents an investment in spectator safety.”
That’s an opinion shared by bureaucrats, owners, and fans alike in Austria, Switzerland, Hungary, Belgium, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, Russia, and the United States, all of which are countries that permit safe standing.
There’s no good reason why England shouldn’t be next on that list.
Small sections of rail seating will provide greater value for money and choice for supporters, create a better match-day experience for those who wish to sit and those who wish to stand, and improve the general level of safety at English stadia.