Mariners in historic safe standing first
As Grimsby Town fought out a 2-2 draw with visitors Gateshead, a group of Mariners fans made history: standing on the safe standing roadshow set up pitchside at Blundell Park, they became the first football supporters ever to watch a game in the UK football pyramid standing behind sturdy rail seats.
The demonstration of safe standing attracted lots of interest from the club's supporters, as well as media attention from BBC Look North (East Yorkshire & Lincolnshire), who featured the event as their lead story on their evening news bulletin.
The club now plans to continue discussions with supporters and the relevant authorities before taking a final decision on potentially blazing a trail as the first UK club to install 'Bundesliga-style' rail seats for safe standing, perhaps as soon as summer 2015.
Welsh Premier League club Bangor City are looking to make safe standing history by potentially becoming the first football club in the United Kingdom to install and use rail seats.
Bangor City set to make safe standing history
An increase in the number of seats would, therefore, clearly increase the capacity for such attractive games. On the flip side, many of the club's fans would like a dedicated standing area behind one of the goals and over recent years the Supporters' Association has been raising money to fund the construction of such an area. Now the club believes it has found the ideal solution to cover all the bases: rail seats. The plan, therefore, is to build a stand with perhaps 500 rail seats at the Menai Bridge End of the ground, which will serve as the 'People's Terrace' for all domestic games and increase seated capacity for European games by almost 50%.
To explain the proposal to interested parties the roadshow visited Bangor in March 2015. The event, hosted by club chairman Dilwyn Jones and Mike Ishmael of the Supporters' Association, was attended by the city's mayor, local politicians, fans and representatives of the media. A few weeks later, Andrew RT Davies, leader of the Welsh Conservatives, also visited the ground to lend his support to the club's safe standing plans (pictured top centre with Mike Ishmael, left, and Ethan Ray, right).
February 2015. Grimsby Town Football Club have declared their intention to fit rail seats to create a safe standing area in a section of their Pontoon Stand behind the goal at Blundell Park.
Grimbsy Town set to be UK trailblazers
This trailblazing move is set to make the Mariners the very first club in the UK with rail seating in operation as a safe standing area.
The only other rail seat installations in the UK to date are a small block of 33 at Bristol City's Ashton Gate, which legislation prohibits the club from using in any form as spectator accommodation for football matches, and 3 being used as seats by club staff at Peterborough United.
Although Grimsby's Blundell Park had to go all-seater some years ago after the club had completed the maximum of 3 years at Championship level during which clubs are permitted to retain standing areas, as the Mariners are currently outside of the Football League the all-seater requirement does not apply at present.
The club is therefore at liberty to reinstate standing and to install rail seats similar to those shown below.
Should it gain promotion back to the Football League, however, the all-seater requirement would immediately kick back in. The hope therefore is that in that event the club will either be allowed to operate the rail seating section as a safe standing trial or to operate it as normal seated accommodation.
The Scottish Daily Record has reported that Duncan United chairman Stephen Thompson is set to make his club the first in Scotland to install rail seats to create a safe standing area.
Dundee United chairman plans to fit rail seats
The paper says that Mr Thompson is ready to £200,000 in the scheme and quotes him as saying: "Creating a safe standing area is expensive but it looks great and creates an atmosphere. We’re in a position to spend the money but we’d need to survey the fans first."
Read the full article by clicking on the image.
February 2015. A report published by the Welsh Conservatives on a survey they conducted into fans' views on safe standing has shown 96% backing for the running of a trial.
Welsh Tories Report 96% Backing for Pilot
The report (which you can read in full by clicking on the image to the right) was launched at Swansea City’s Liberty Stadium by the Leader of the Welsh Conservatives, Andrew RT Davies, who is calling on the next UK government to legislate for a Welsh pilot.
A survey of 2,364 fans undertaken by the Welsh Conservatives (with the support of the FSF) found that:
Welsh Conservative leader, Andrew RT Davies, has called on the next UK Government to take steps, early in the new parliament, to legislate for a limited pilot of safe standing to be undertaken in Wales. The pledge is backed by the Football Supporters’ Federation, the Safe Standing Roadshow and Supporters Trusts of each of the four main professional clubs in Wales – Swansea City, Cardiff City, Newport County and Wrexham.
December 6, 2014. Ahead of Manchester City's home game against Everton, a roomful of City and Everton fans at a packed city centre pub were given an update on the safe standing campaign and urged to press their clubs and MPs to back calls for trials.
Manchester City "watching developments with interest"
The event was run by the '1894 Group', City supporters better known for organising colourful pre-match displays (like the one pictured above at the 2014 City vs Utd derby). As well as our own Jon Darch, speakers included Dave Kelly of Everton's 'Blue Union' and the FSF and John Leech MP, a lifelong City fan and Liberal Democrat spokesman on culture, media and sport.
Kelly urged fans to get organised and to affiliate both as individuals and as the group to the FSF, while Leech (pictured below right) assured the audience that it was not a question of if safe standing would be introduced, but rather a question of when, going on to stress that standing behind rail seats would be much safer than the current largely accepted practice of standing behind conventional shin-high seat backs.
At the end of the meeting, a number of interviews were conducted by members of the press, including a film crew from ESPN Brazil.
All-seater stadia have to provide spectators with seats, right? And a rail seat is, well, a seat, right? You may therefore have wondered why clubs with all-seater stadia can't, if they wish, simply replace conventional seating with rail seats in a given part of their ground, e.g. their 'singing section'. It's a bit confusing, isn't it! Well, a document that was made public this week will confuse you still further! (Click image below to open as a PDF)
Seated accommodation - Why rail seating ticks all the boxes
This document was presented to the local Safety Advisory Group for Ashton Gate Stadium in April 2014. The background to this was a desire to provide modern safe standing accommodation for rugby fans (Bristol Rugby now play there), while continuing to meet the all-seater requirement for Bristol City football matches, pending any change in the relevant rules about standing at football. To that end it sought to demonstrate that rail seats are indeed "seated accommodation", as per the current legal requirement for football games at the ground.
Given that the document demonstrates that rail seats do comply with every requirement of the Green Guide in relation to spectator seating and that there is no specification in the legislation as to the style of seating required other than to say an all-seater stadium must provide "only seated accommodation", it is difficult to see on what grounds the use of rail seats can logically be denied.
It has, however, been further suggested that there is a need to clarify whether rail seats serve the intended purpose of the Football Spectators Act. The intended purpose of that Act is derived from the objectives of the Taylor Report. Any reading of the report shows that Taylor's primary objective was not that football spectators should sit down and shut up, but that a spectator should not be “subject to pressure of numbers behind or around him during the match”, should "not be jostled or moved about by swaying or surging", should not be "buffetted" and that there should be no "involuntary and uncontrolled crowd movements occasioned by incidents in the game".
Clearly, by virtue of the continuous rows of waist-high rails that rail seating creates, it meets this objective very well and thus serves the intended purpose of the Act. Indeed, especially in areas of a stadium where it can be anticipated that spectators will frequently stand, as Taylor predicted that during "moments of excitement" they would, it is clear to see that rail seats would better serve the intended purpose of the Act than conventional seats with low backs, which provide no protection to the spectator from "involuntary and uncontrolled crowd movements occasioned by incidents in the game", such as a fellow fan falling forward from the row behind in wild celebration of a goal. Rather than prohibiting the introduction of rail seats, it could be argued that the safety authorities should be insisting upon their installation in those areas of stadia where frequent standing can be expected, e.g. in 'singing sections'. As spectator safety is surely their sole concern, why would they not?
BBC's annual survey and the Sports Minister saying she was "cross" and that clubs "must not take their fans for granted", it seems an opportune moment to look at the contribution that rail seats could make to the range of prices on offer to fans of clubs with all-seater stadia.Rail seats can cut the price of football
First a look at some numbers: though unlike the BBC's figures that were taken in isolation with no review of price spread or how costs stack up as a percentage of average income, we look here at elasticity and affordablity.
An Arsenal season ticket for £122
Drawing comparisons between Arsenal in the UK and Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich in Germany, what we see on the issue of affordability is a horrifying picture: a fan buying the lowest priced season ticket at Arsenal is paying over 8 times more as a percentage of average income than a fan buying the equivalent ticket at Bayern Munich and over 5 times more than a fan at Borussia Dortmund. That's £1,014 out of UK average income of £26,500, i.e. 3.8% of income for the Arsenal fan, compared to €140 out of German average income of €30,060, i.e. 0.46% for the Bayern Munich fan and €204 out of the same €30,060, i.e. 0.7% for the Borussia Dortmund supporter. At 0.46% of average earnings, an Arsenal season ticket would cost not £1,014, but £122!
And the fact that the lowest-priced tickets at Arsenal are over 8 times less affordable than those at Bayern is a direct result of the spread of prices between top and bottom being very inelastic in the UK. While at Bayern the cheapest season tickets cost less than a fifth of the highest-priced ones, at Arsenal fans buying the cheapest tickets are forced to pay over 50% of the top season ticket price. Nor is it just a small quota of tickets that the German clubs sell at the bottom end of their price range: at Borussia Dortmund no less than 27,000 of the 84,000 capacity (32%) are fans who are standing and thus paying the lowest, most socially inclusive price.
Not the clubs' fault
But, despite all of this, I have some sympathy with the English clubs. After all, in any business you are going to price your products at a level that the market is prepared to pay. And for as long as there are people prepared to pay over £2,000 for a season ticket, why would you not want to take that money off them? So I have no problem with clubs charging what they can get at the top of their price range for their premium product, i.e. a seat on an upper tier on the halfway line. However, having set the price for that seat at, say £2,000 for the season, it is then very difficult at present for English clubs with all-seater stadia to offer a lower-end price at anything like the affordable levels that their counterparts in Germany are able to offer. Why? Because unlike their German counterparts, the English clubs have only one product to offer: a conventional seat. And indeed in many new stadia, like the Emirates (pictured below), the very same model of seat throughout the ground.
If, in order to attract the next generation of lifelong fans, Arsenal were to offer season tickets for large numbers of these identical seats at a price equivalent to, say, the 0.46% of average earnings charged by Bayern, i.e. £122, then people paying £2,000 for their season ticket for ostensibly an identical seat would clearly not be best pleased. The clubs can justify modest price variation based on seat location within the ground (e.g. halfway line or behind the goal), but given the very high prices for which they are able to find customers at the top end of the scale, this modest variation does not enable them to offer affordable, socially inclusive prices at the bottom end.
That's where rail seats come in.
Authorities blocking affordable pricing
Through their refusal to date to permit clubs to install rail seating, the authorities are denying them the chance to broaden their range of prices and make football more affordable to fans on a modest income. Instead of just getting "cross" with the clubs for not offering lower prices, the Minister might be better advised to provide them with the means of doing this. Permit the clubs to install rail seats (with exactly the same capacities and ticketing procedures as at present) and many, I am sure, will utilise that opportunity to bring the lower end of their price range down to a much more affordable level. Deny them that opportunity and, for the economic reasons set out above, they will remain hamstrung and unable to do so.
October 2014. A recent article appearing on a leading legal commentary website has argued that the introduction of rail seating "would not only meet the purposes of the Taylor Report, but also comply with current legislation".
Legal website article explores safe standing issues
The article, written by Marcus Keppel-Palmer, a Senior Lecturer in Law at the University of the West of England and formerly a solicitor and partner with Hill Dickinson, is published on LawInSport, which describes itself as "a leading international sports law digital media business", which provides "expert commentary and analysis on the latest issues and legal developments in the world of sport."
In his detailed analysis of the current situation, Keppel-Palmer notes that in 1990, when Lord Justice Taylor made his recommendation regarding the introduction of all-seater stadia, most football grounds dated from the early 20th century and were in a poor state of repair. He judges that Taylor's "recommendation was not in itself primarily focussed on safety, but rather offered as a solution to the prevailing low level facilities at all football stadia". Keppel-Palmer goes on to note that Taylor stated that all-seater stadia were in themselves not the only answer to the problems of that era, but that this was the "most appropriate at the time of the Report, given the atmosphere and culture then prevailing in football". Looking at the present day, he argues that the "social, cultural and architectural conditions applying in 2014 are different to those in the time that Taylor LJ reported. Many clubs in the Premier League and in the Football League inhabit stadia built since 1989 or substantially remodelled since then."
He notes, too, that Taylor's primary concern was not that spectators should sit down (indeed he notes that Taylor expected them to stand at times), but that a spectator should have "his own small piece of territory in which he can feel reasonably secure”, where he would not be “subject to pressure of numbers behind or around him during the match” and where there would be no surging, or "involuntary and uncontrolled crowd movements occasioned by incidents in the game". "Rail seating is arguably a better response to these issues than current seating as the barrier prevents spectators falling forward over seats," says Keppel-Palmer.
All in all, for anyone with an interest in the legal aspects of the safe standing debate the article is a fascinating read. So make yourself a drink (it's not a short item!), sit down, click here and read away! If, you concur with Keppel-Palmer's interpretation that the law's intended purpose is to safeguard spectators from surging, crushing and buffeting, i.e. the primary concerns expressed by Taylor in his report, then you may well concur also with his concluding comments that as "there is no definition of “seated accommodation”, it would seem self-evident that rail seating would comply with the undefined term in the Statute and Orders" and that "the reintroduction of some standing areas at stadia in England and Wales by means of the introduction of dedicated rail seating/safe standing would not only meet the purposes of the Taylor Report, but also comply with current legislation".
Celtic more determined than ever after frustrating safe standing setback
The club said in its statement: "we believe the proposals we have made would significantly enhance safety at matches. This is a vitally important spectator-safety issue." The decision, Celtic told their supporters, left them "extremely disappointed and concerned" and advised that "in an attempt to seek clarity on this matter, we have requested a full written explanation for the judgement made".
Happily, it appears that the Safety Advisory Group had no concerns about the safety of fans standing behind rail seats (and why would they, as it is clearly safer than the current practice of standing behind conventional seats!).
So what were their grounds for rejecting Celtic's proposals?
Remarkably, it would appear to be that they recognised that the rail seating area will be very popular (and no doubt they are right there!) and were worried about fans from adjacent areas of conventional seating moving across into the rail seating section and making it overcrowded. Celtic proposed to manage this through the use of stewards (as is seen, for exmaple, between home and away fans in many Premier League grounds), but for the SAG this seemed to be inadequate, as a spokesperson told the BBC website: "It is the view of agencies on the safety advisory group that some form of physical barrier between standing and seating areas is required to ensure that a standing area would be appropriately managed."
Given the role that physical structures, aka fences, have played in stadium disasters throughout the world in the past, it may seem to some bizarre to see a safety authority calling for their introduction in this scenario.
However, as the Herald Scotsman reported, "The Safety Advisory Group - chaired by Glasgow City Council - has, however, not ruled out the principle of installing rail seating at Celtic Park", saying that "A spokesman for the safety group, made up of agencies including police and the fire service, indicated the proposal could be reconsidered if issues including proper segregation and increased stewarding were addressed."
Given that the club is so determined and that the council evidently agrees that standing behind rail seats is the safer option for the club's standing fans, one can but hope that they and the club will soon reach agreement on how to kerb the enthusiasm of fans elsewhere in the ground for the exciting safe standing experience!
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