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!
The ‘Individual Members Debate’ was tabled by Assembly Members Andrew RT Davies, Ann Jones, Bethan Jenkins, and Aled Roberts following a visit by the FSF and the Safe StandingRoadshow to The Senedd in June (photo).
Welsh Assembly passes historic safe standing vote
The proposal in front of the Assembly was that it:
· Notes the overwhelming appetite amongst football supporters for the introduction of safe standing facilities;
· Calls on the Welsh Government to work closely with sport associations and regulatory authorities to promote safe standing at sports stadia in Wales;
· And calls on the UK Government to consider the introduction of a pilot of safe standing in Wales.
The resounding vote of 26 in favour, 1 against and 20 abstentions was equivalent to a vote of 282 for and 11 against at Westminster.
It was gratifying to see that nearly all of the AMs were well informed about rail seating and understood its fundamental difference to old-fashioned terracing. Only one AM appeared to think that what was being proposed was a return to the days of ‘surging’ and ‘charging’, as he put it. It is to be hoped, therefore, that if Westminster MPs also take the time to inform themselves about rail seating, a similar outcome might be expected in any future Commons debate.
In the meantime, as the relevant legislation is not a devolved matter, Welsh Assembly Members will now deliver an open letter to Sports Minister Helen Grant urging her to introduce a pilot scheme in Wales and to remove legislation that they say “unfairly stigmatises football fans”.
The full 40-minute debate can be viewed here.
First ever rail seats installed in the UK
Bristol Sport, which is redeveloping Ashton Gate for use by
both Bristol City and Bristol Rugby Club, is planning to incorporate two areas
of rail seats in the remodelled stadium. Until such time as the rules on
standing at football change, these will offer standing accommodation for
rugby games only and be used as seats for football.
To explain these plans to key stakeholders, the media and the general public, Bristol Sport has installed 3 rows of rail seats, totalling 33 in all, in one self-contained corner of Ashton Gate (now ‘out of bounds’ for football). The installation was filmed and a timelapse recording of the 6-hour process was viewed over 5,000 times within the first 24 hours of the official unveiling by John Leech MP, the Liberal Democrat spokesman on culture, media and sport.
A further 5-minute video was also made for seating manufacturer Ferco Seating, explaining the technical aspects of the installation process. It also points out that three rows of seats have three different rail heights, i.e. 800, 950 and 1100mm, in order to promote debate about the most appropriate height for the rail integrated into this new form of stadium seating.
Anyone wishing to view the rail seats at Ashton Gate can arrange to do so by contacting email@example.com
Football League clubs say 'Yes' to safe standing
This announcement came as the clubs were told how they had
replied to the four questions put to them in the consultation paper
on standing, which had been circulated in late 2013. 78% of clubs
responding to the key question on approaching the government to seek a review
of the law had said ‘Yes’.
The clubs also gave the League executive a mandate to “approach the Sports Grounds Safety Authority to request that rail seating products be licensed in Football League grounds.” The clubs also replied ‘Yes’ to two further questions, namely: ‘Should clubs be permitted to accommodate supporters in rail seating in the Championship?’ and ‘Should clubs be permitted to revert from seating to standing accommodation in League One and League Two following relegation from the Championship?’
This whole process at the Football League had been initiated by Bob Symns, Chief Executive of Peterborough United, who came with us to Hanover to see their rail seats in the summer of 2012 and put a motion in support of safe standing to a meeting of Championship clubs in February 2013 and to the full League AGM in May 2013.
Welcoming the latest news, Bob said: “Following all the hard work and commitment that has been undertaken by the FSF, Safe Standing Roadshow and teams from the Football League and Premier League in regard to rail seating, I think the result of the safe standing consultation will prove to be a significant, sensible and safe step in the right direction on the road to bringing this extremely credible option to the public and our stadia.”
The Football League executives are now expected to begin discussions with DCMS and the SGSA in line with the mandates given to them by their member clubs.
Football League asks clubs 4 safe standing questions
The document was the results of many months of researching the safe standing issue by the Football League executive team in response to the vote by 55 of the 72 clubs at their AGM in May that charged the executive with exploring what steps would be necessary to implement safe standing trials.
Having explored this thoroughly, including by making a fact-finding visit to Germany, the executive team were now asking the clubs four questions:
- 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?
Clubs have been asked to respond by Friday 24th January.
The sort of rail seating on which the League is seeking clubs' views.
Among the clubs already to have responded positively are: Portsmouth, Derby County, Bristol City, Peterborough United, Burnley, Exeter City and Yeovil Town.
Others have indicated confidentially that they are answering 'Yes' to all four questions, but have not yet made this public. Still others are consulting their fans.
Act now! Contact your club today!
Supporters of Football League clubs that have not yet indicated how they intend to respond are being urged by the Football Supporters Federation to contact their club urgently via their Supporter Liaison Officer to urge them to reply 'Yes' on all four counts. A list of SLOs' e-mail addresses can be found here.
BBC Radio One Newsbeat join us at VfL Wolfsburg
The report was backed up by photos and video produced by reporter Ben Mundy when we arranged for him to meet us at VfL Wolfsburg a few weeks earlier. With SLO Holger Ballwanz, press officer André Hahn and stadium manager Thomas Franke playing great hosts, Ben was shown around the stadium and the rail seating area behind the goal for the home fans.
In that area, bathed in bright sunshine, he filmed a piece with Thomas that explains very nicely in little more than a minute just how safe standing at rail seats works and why Thomas would recommend it for grounds in the UK.
Click image to go to video
Many thanks once again to Holger, André and Thomas for all their help on the day!