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!
'This is Anfield' began a series of featured articles on the safe standing debate.
Liverpool fan sites cover safe standing debate
After regular contributor John Ritchie had set the ball rolling with a piece entitled 'Liverpool FC: The case for safe standing', our own Jon Darch contributed an article looking at the social background to the standing ban and suggesting that to support a ban based on the premise that fans who like to stand are trouble waiting to happen was an insult to the 96. Jon also contributed a set of safe standing FAQs for the site.
More recently, 'This is Anfield' has added a further piece by Peter Caton, author of 'Stand Up, Sit Down', arguing that to assert that standing is unsafe harms the fight for justice, a view with which Sheila Coleman of the Hillsborough Justice Campaign appears to agree:
It is very encouraging and interesting to see such Liverpool websites and individuals carry / link to such articles, which were preceded in the late summer by a safe standing video feature for BT Sport produced by Times football editor and long-standing Liverpool fan Tony Evans and followed in January 2014 by an article by Evan's Times colleague and fellow Reds fans Tony Barrett in The Times and on Liverpool fan site The Anfield Wrap, in which he asserted that safe standing deserves calm consideration.
Never let it be said, therefore, that all in Liverpool are against standing. Clearly that is not the case.
The safe standing campaign received a boost in early October 2013, when new Manchester United CEO Ed Woodward told fanzine 'United We Stand' that the club was interested in safe standing.Picture: Front row from left to right: Ian Stirling (chairman, IMUSA), Duncan Drasdo (chief exec., MUST), Andy Mitten (editor, UWS), Franky Linde (SLO, Bayer Leverkusen)
Man Utd CEO says club will look at safe standing
"Standing is something we'll look at," Woodward told fanzine editor Andy Mitten. "I can definitely see the appeal of the German model."
Atmosphere, indeed, was one of the benefits that Woodward had recognised standing could enhance:
"You can still have an amazing atmosphere at Old Trafford... Standing can make a difference though."
Let's hope it's not long before United fans can make that difference standing behind rail seats at Old Trafford!
Bristol, June 2013. Bristol City look set to become the first club in the UK to incorporate safe standing rail seat areas into their ground. That's what will happen if a proposed £40m development of Ashton Gate goes ahead. And the new rail seat areas could be open and in use by August 2015.
Bristol City to pioneer safe standing rail seats
This is where I have to declare an interest: Bristol City is the club I've supported all my life, so I'm delighted to see them leading the way as the first club in the UK to propose a stadium development that incorporates rail seats.
The only sad thing about the plans is that unless the rules change between now and August 2015 only supporters of the club's new groundshare partners, Bristol Rugby, will be allowed to stand at the rail seats. For football games the stadium will still have to offer only "seated accommodation", so the rail seats will be unlocked to enable them to be used as seats.
Bristol Sport, the parent company that owns the football and rugby clubs, have provided for 3,152 rail seats in a refurbished Dolman Stand (opposite the dug-outs) and a new end stand (pictured above) that will replace the Wedlock Stand (in part of which away fans are currently housed). Once completed, Ashton Gate will hold 26,500 in all-seater mode and up to 29,000 with standing in rail seat areas.
As indicated above, however, only Bristol Rugby Club will be able to offer the rail seats in standing mode, as current legislation prohibits clubs with all-seater grounds from converting any part back into a standing area, even if, like Bristol City, they have dropped down below the Championship and would otherwise be allowed to offer standing.
The inconsistent, illogical nature of current legislation is perfectly highlighted here – the authorities are perfectly happy to allow standing in rail seated areas, so long as the ball is oval, not round! However, this shouldn’t detract from the pioneering proposals put forward by Bristol City, who will be lobbying for the redeveloped Ashton Gate (pictured right looking from the Atyeo Stand) to be used as a pilot site for a safe standing trial. These plans come hot on the heels of the vote passed by 55 out of the 72 Football League clubs recently at their AGM, where they approved a motion to “explore the steps necessary” to run safe standing trials.
Rail seat areas to open August 2015
The redevelopment plans for Ashton Gate run alongside an exisiting proposal to build a new ground at nearby Ashton Vale, the design of which also includes provision for rail seats. An inquiry into those plans opens in October with the club aiming to decide on which project to proceed with by the end of the year. If they decide to redevelop Ashton Gate, work is scheduled to begin in the spring of 2014 and the new home end and refurbished Dolman Stand (left in the picture above) are set to open in August 2015.