Time to embrace the rail seats in football?

The notion of standing in football stadiums immediately conjures up thoughts of disasters.

A number of accidents involving British sides have left a permanent scar on the game and resulted in the condemnation of terraces in football stadia around the world.

Of course there are still standing specific areas in stadiums around England and the world but regulations mean that you won’t see legal standing in lets say a World Cup or Champions League game.

Last season over on The Busby Way we looked at the possibility of reintroducing standing at Old Trafford. The terrace at Old Trafford is famous and prior to the Taylor Report in 1990 there were plans for the Stretty End to be all standing with a cantilever roof to link with the rest of the ground.

Of course the idea we suggested was met with scepticism and responses of it’ll never happen but what if I was to say there is a safe way to return standing to football stadiums in England?

When we looked at bringing it back to Old Trafford we cited the German model of ‘safe standing’ and having had the chance to meet Jon Darch from the Safe Standing Roadshow and Malcolm Clarke of the Football Supporters Federation it is apparent that not only is there a market for standing at games but that it can also work.

German football is member (fan) controlled and they believe that standing is an integral part of football support thus have designated areas in stadium specifically for standing and as long as the game is run that way in Germany it will never be outlawed.

But as expected they encountered problems.

In the late 1990s UEFA outlawed standing in stadia that wanted to host European football competitions like the Champions League and the then UEFA Cup so the Bundesliga teams were faced with a problem, how would they convert their standing areas into seating areas to satisfy UEFA regulations?

Hamburg came up with an idea convert every second step in their standing areas into a fold up chair. When folded down it was just a metal step but in event of European football it could be flipped up into a seat.

It wasn’t a popular idea though as more teams chose to go with the ‘rail seat’.

Approved of by UEFA and FIFA, the variositze or rail seat consists of one step or two depending on preference to be stood on, then a rail with seat in front and behind.

The seat can be unlocked and folded out with a key but when in the locked position the rail in front and behind prevents the spectator from being pushed forward and toppling, unlike the danger presented when standing in stadiums today with the low back or even no back chairs.

This railway chair is what the Safe Standing Roadshow want to bring to English football and personally I was sold by their presentation.

The actual ruling behind standing in itself is quite daft, standing is prohibited only in the top two flights of football so League 1 and below can have terraces whilst if you are fortunate enough to be promoted into the Championship from League 1 then your stadium will need renovation.

I find it hard to see the correlation between fan safety and the quality of football you play yet the ruling still stands.

Another interesting point raised was the fact standing is only prohibited at football games. So you may find yourself expelled from Old Trafford for standing at a football game but if you go back the following week for the rugby that Old Trafford can be found to host, the same stewards won’t bat an eyelid as you stand and cheer.

Although attempting to make the game safer the ruling on standing at football games for me does not actually address the real problem.

When Trafford Borough Council threatened to reduce Old Trafford’s capacity due to persistent standing they commissioned a report to show just how dangerous standing is.

Unfortunately it didn’t quite work out like that and instead the report found:

  • Jumping up and down when celebrating
  • Squeezing through narrow aisles when going toilet
  • Taking the stairs out after a game

were all more dangerous than just standing during a game.

Most footballing disasters have occurred due to poor crowd control at entry or exit. Very rarely have accidents occurred due to standing during action.

Standing during games is something that will always happen and although stewards will try to enforce it early on very rarely is it strictly adhered to. At the FA Youth Cup semi final first leg between Manchester United and Chelsea at Stamford Bridge we were threatened with expulsion in the Shed End but after a while the stewards gave up and allowed us to stand for the whole 90 minutes whilst at Bramall Lane for the final we were allowed to stand for 90 minutes unopposed.

John Darch and the Safe Standing team believe as fans we should get the choice whether we stand at games, there is a misconception that they are trying to return to the days of terraces but simply they want to give fans the option to stand at games safely and having seen their model for doing so if given the choice I would like to.

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