Safe Standing By This Summer?
We all know the battle for safe standing has been gaining pace over the last few seasons but it's now been intimated that it could be with us by next season!
However, it's fair to say that seems to be a stretch given the strength of feeling against it given the tragedies we have seen in the game.
The campaign for a return to standing has long been growing following on from the senseless loss of life at Hillsborough and others, but of course the debate is now 'safe standing' with rail seats that are commonly used in the German Bundesliga and it's arguably improved the atmosphere but it's also perfectly safe when compared to 'old terraces' that we know of in the UK.
Celtic have also run a trial for the last season to great effect and Shrewsbury Town have crowd funded a section at New Meadow that will soon come into play. So for proponents of 'safe standing' the campaign is now really building up speed, especially as the Spirit of Shankley group voted last year overwhelmingly to continue to consider 'safe standing' as something for the future, with a large number of members in favour of its introduction outright.
However it does remain a thorny subject for some fans and that has to be considered given the strength of feeling but a Talksport this week implied its return could be closer than anyone thinks.
They quoted the managing director of Ferco Seating Ltd, and Michael Burnett explained that the legislation as it exists would only require some small tweaks - as opposed to new legislation itself - to enable grounds to run some real tests of rail seating at Premier League and Championship levels. Those tweaks could easily be done in time for some clubs at least to make changes ahead of next season and there are a handful of clubs who have gone public when it comes to running trials in England.
'It could be this summer if they can get over all the regulatory hurdles. There's certainly a couple at the moment who are looking at doing something. I know that they have spoken to the authorities and to the Football League.'
Ferco were of course the club to introduce the rail seating trial at Celtic and whilst (fair's fair this is life) it's self promotion for themselves, they aren't inventing how successful that trial has been.
Celtic FC's Supporter Liaison Officer, JP Taylor, said of the 3,000 trial.
'It has revolutionised the atmosphere. If the stadium is not full or if the football is not particularly exciting it tended to go a bit flat. Whereas now having the standing area with three thousand people in there creating a noise every game is an experience at Celtic Park.'
It's not just the Bundesliga that uses rail seating, the Russian Premier League also has it with CSKA Moscow introducing it to their stadium to good effect, so Burnett continued.
'We have had them over in Germany so they could see it first hand, how the whole thing functions in a large stadium with large numbers of fans.'
Jon Darch of the Safe Standing Roadshow points out the law as it stands doesn't actually prohibit rail seating because it's not terracing as we know it Jim (I'm tired Star Trek fans forgive me).
'The law gives the Secretary of State certain powers that are, in effect, discretionary. The Secretary of State could therefore lift the restriction on ground X, Y or Z.'
With Tottenham's new ground having a break that would technically allow standing on the lower level before seats took precedence on the higher level, he continued.
'All that would be required for them to be able to put rail seats in, even as soon as August when they open the new stadium, is for the Secretary of Sate to say 'Yes'.'
Tottenham themselves acknowledge that the new stadium is 'future proof' and many believe that implies 'safe standing proof' that would allow a quick change to rail seats but that remains to be seen.
Of course there is another element to safe standing that often gets lost in the modern game. A great number of fans stand unsafely anyway and it often leads to, shall we say, disagreements with stewards and with a section of rail seating that would limit unneeded angst.
'They feel that at the moment despite the fact that you are not allowed to stand, there is persistent standing at all Premier League games. So there is a belief that if you put in safe standing you will reduce persistent standing.'
Darch echoes those thoughts.
'If you stand in front of a seat that only comes up to your ankles it is very easy to topple over it. This causes cuts and bruises and in some cases broken limbs. That would never happen with rail seating.'
Next season is a stretch, but with such a voice to 'safe standing' now and so many clubs being on board and open to tests akin to Celtic, it really should be only a matter of time before fans can choose whether to stand or sit.