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Devolved sports ground safety for Wales?

posted 3 Jan 2016, 15:48 by Jon Darch   [ updated 3 Jan 2016, 15:59 ]

January 4, 2016. The Welsh Conservatives have added new impetus to their campaign for safe standing, calling for responsibility for sports ground safety to be devolved from Westminster to Cardiff in order to enable safe standing trials to be run in Wales.

Welsh Tories call for devolution of sports ground safety 

Party Leader, Andrew RT Davies (pictured), has long led the call for a safe standing pilot in Wales and in December 2014 commissioned a survey of supporters in the UK which found that some 96% back the introduction of such standing areas.

Mr Davies is now calling for the devolution of responsibility for sports ground safety to the Welsh Assembly. The plans would enable a safe standing pilot to be undertaken in Wales.

Mr Davies has previously met with the Sports Minister Tracey Crouch to discuss safe standing and will write to her to formally request the transfer of powers to the Welsh Assembly. 

The announcement comes in a new video released by the Welsh Conservatives today which can be seen here:

Writing for the Welsh Conservatives’ website - YourVoice - Mr Davies said the issue of standing was one of “fairness” and said that it was time for a pilot to sensibly assess the evidence around safe standing.

He said: “Safe standing is a question of fairness. How can it be safe to stand at a rugby match or a concert yet somehow inherently unsafe to stand at the football - often in the same stadiums? 

“That simple distinction has never made any sense outside of the context of social attitudes towards football supporters in the 1980s. We wouldn’t accept that kind of discrimination against any other social group or demographic, so why accept it when it’s levelled at football fans?"

Under Welsh Conservative proposals the Sports Ground Safety Authority would continue to monitor safety at grounds. However, the devolution of responsibility for regulation would enable a Welsh Conservative Government to lift the ban on standing areas and hold a pilot in Wales, where there is cross party backing for safe standing following a vote in 2014.


Confirmed: Celtic to pioneer rail seating

posted 15 Jun 2015, 03:17 by Jon Darch   [ updated 15 Jun 2015, 03:25 ]

Following a meeting on June 9, 2015, of Celtic’s ‘Safety Advisory Group’, it has been confirmed by the club that they will be going ahead with the installation of rail seats at Celtic Park.

Confirmed: Celtic to pioneer rail seating

This landmark announcement means that Celtic will be the UK pioneers of this form of spectator accommodation, already widely used elsewhere, in countries including Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Norway and Hungary. The news comes 1,453 days after the roadshow’s first of three visits to ‘Paradise’ (pictured right) between May 2011 and January 2014 to help club officials explain the merits of rail seating to the authorities, media and fans.

The club’s interest in rail seating had, it appears, initially been sparked by supporters group the Celtic Trust, who in the spring of 2011 let it be known that they would be tabling a motion at the football club’s autumn AGM asking that it conduct a feasibility study into creating a safe standing area at Celtic Park. That, it seems, prompted the club to contact us and the rest, as they say, is now history.

In December 2011, the SPL met and resolved to permit clubs to run trials of safe standing, on the proviso that they gained consent from their local authority and police force. Many local authority safety officials and a good number of police officers duly had the chance to look at rail seats during a further visit by the roadshow to Scotland in February 2012, when we visited 7 grounds in 5 days.

The subsequent upheavals in Scottish football, in particular the troubles at Rangers and the restructuring of the league system, then caused something of a hiatus in proceedings.

All the time, however, Celtic were pressing on, submitting formal proposals to the council, having an ongoing dialogue with the police and, in January 2014, hosting the annual conference of the Football Safety Officers’ Association of Scotland, at which the roadshow was again present to help spread the word about rail seats.

Chief Executive Peter Lawwell said around that time: We feel there is a new vibrancy in football that has come from Europe and is now in the UK. It's an energy and youthfulness and the safest way of being able to manage that is through safe standing. These are new systems that… are extremely safe and we are very keen to explore that at Celtic Park.”

Following several further meetings of the club’s Safety Advisory Group and rigorous examination of the club’s proposals, the authorities have now given the go-ahead.

One of the first to comment on the news was a spokesperson for the Celtic Trust:

"We at the Celtic Trust are delighted that this proposal, which we originally put to Celtic over 4 years ago is now going to happen. The provision of both seated and standing areas to accommodate different tastes will make Celtic Park an even more attractive and exciting place than ever."

The club has previously announced that the area earmarked for the rail seating is a corner of the lower tier, embracing blocks 110-112. During the season ticket renewal process in spring 2014 and again in 2015 fans were asked to register their interest in safe standing. Now that this is to become reality those that did so will, no doubt, be at the top of the list for tickets in the remodelled area. With an anticipated lead time of a several months, it may now not be until next summer that the green rail seats get installed in these blocks, but the fans there will undoubtedly see it as worth the wait – after all, what’s a few more months after all the years of waiting?!

Well done, Celtic!

Grimsby Town FC in historic safe standing first

posted 5 Apr 2015, 06:25 by Jon Darch   [ updated 5 Apr 2015, 06:26 ]

April 4th, 2015. The date on which football fans in the UK watched an official game of football standing at rail seats for the first time ever. An historic event in the safe standing campaign that took place at Blundell Park, Grimsby.

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 event was organised by Grimsby Town stadium manager Nick Dale, who wanted to let all key stakeholders, including fans and the media, see rail seats 'in the flesh', as the club looks into a potential installation of such seats in one block of the Pontoon Stand later this year.

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.

Bangor City set to make safe standing history

posted 5 Apr 2015, 04:47 by Jon Darch   [ updated 5 Apr 2015, 05:02 ]

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

The North Wales club's ground, the Nanporth Stadium, known for sponsportship purposes as the Book People Stadium, offers 1,100 seats and several areas of flat standing accommodation. Capacity for domestic games is 3,000. However, due to UEFA's all-seater rule for their games, when the club plays in European competitions, which it has done ten times in the new millenium, this is reduced to just 1,100.

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%.

That increased seated capacity would also be useful when the grounds hosts national team matches under UEFA or FIFA auspices, with Wales U21 UEFA qualifiers and a Welsh Women's FIFA World Cup qualifier having already been played at the ground in recent years.

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).

Grimbsy Town FC set to be UK trailblazers

posted 26 Feb 2015, 09:15 by Jon Darch   [ updated 26 Feb 2015, 09:25 ]

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.

Dundee United chairman plans to fit rail seats

posted 26 Feb 2015, 09:08 by Jon Darch   [ updated 26 Feb 2015, 09:11 ]

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.

Welsh Tories Report 96% Backing for Pilot

posted 26 Feb 2015, 09:01 by Jon Darch   [ updated 27 Feb 2015, 09:14 ]

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:
  • 96% back a safe standing pilot to trial modern stadium technology
  • 84% believe that safe standing areas would decrease the likelihood of conflict between stewards and fans
  • 97% feel that modern stadium technology can make standing areas at football grounds safe
  • Just 62% believe that dedicated standing areas will make a return to the top two divisions of professional football in the future
The Welsh Conservatives have led the campaign for safe standing in Wales, recently passing a motion in the National Assembly backing a pilot – in doing so, the National Assembly became the first UK legislature to formally adopt a ‘pro-standing’ position.

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.

Man City watching developments with interest

posted 8 Dec 2014, 08:37 by Jon Darch   [ updated 8 Dec 2014, 08:39 ]

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.

John Leech MP
Asked from the floor what fans could do to ensure that the introduction of safe standing happened sooner rather than later, Leech recommonded that fans take the matter up with their MP (although if they lived in the Withington constituency, they didn't need to, as that was him!), while Darch stressed that the more clubs that publicly backed the call for the trials, the more difficult the government would find it to resist. He reminded the meeting that 75% of Football League clubs had mandated their executive to go to government and seek permission for trials, but that Premier League clubs had been a little more coy about expressing public support, although based on what he had been told privately he gauged support for trials among Premier League clubs to be at least as high as the 75% at Football League level.

Dave Kelly and ESPN
Asked whether he had presented the rail seating concept to the executive team at Manchester City, he said that, yes, he had taken the roadshow to the ground for a presentation to club executives and that his understanding was that the club is watching developments with interest.

At the end of the meeting, a number of interviews were conducted by members of the press, including a film crew from ESPN Brazil.

Ever wondered, when is a seat not a seat?

posted 30 Oct 2014, 17:44 by Jon Darch   [ updated 31 Oct 2014, 01:57 ]

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

Ticks all the boxes document

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?

Rail seats can help cut the price of football

posted 26 Oct 2014, 05:47 by Jon Darch   [ updated 26 Oct 2014, 07:37 ]

Kop prices banner
October 2014. With the price of football very much in the news over the last week or so as a result of the 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.

Emirates Stadium

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.

Rail seats
Premier League club executives have told me that the introduction of rail seating would enable them to offer this very different product at a different, lower, more socially inclusive price. The logic is simple: the spectator willing to pay £2,000 for a season ticket for a padded seat high up on the halfway line isn't going to complain if a much lower price is charged for a rudimentary metal seat low down behind the goal in an area where fans are expected to be noisy and stand, as allowed, during prolonged periods of excitement. While still "seated accommodation" as required by the law, that product is of no interest to the former spectator. It is clearly a very different 'product' that can be offered at a lower price without undermining the club's pricing structure for its core product offering, i.e. conventional seating.

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.

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