Ever wondered, when is a seat not a seat?

October 2014. 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 to open as a PDF)

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?