Man Utd seek permission for 1,500 'safe standing' seats
LONDON: A Manchester United fans' group says it welcomes the club's application to have 1,500 rail seats installed at Old Trafford, intended to allow supporters to stand in safety.
The club applied for permission to the local Safety Advisory Group (SAG) in December and hopes to be given the go-ahead to introduce a safe standing section.
United have experienced long-running problems with fans refusing to sit down in parts of their all-seater Old Trafford ground but rail seats are designed to lock into a folded position, giving fans space to stand.
"We hope to see this progress as quickly as possible as we have long argued that rail seats are a safety enhancement as well as popular with many fans whether they prefer to stand or indeed prefer to remain seated throughout the game in other areas with an unobstructed view," a statement from the Manchester United Supporters Trust (M.U.S.T) said on Tuesday.
"The North East Quadrant (lower) was selected initially as it has been an area where persistent standing has been established dating back over more than six years."
Rail seating is hugely popular in Germany's Bundesliga and used by Scottish club Celtic but while Tottenham Hotspur's new stadium is adapted with rail seating and Wolverhampton Wanderers installed some in a stand at Molineux, they are not allowed to operate safe standing areas.
Standing is an option that followers of Premier League and Championship (second-tier) clubs have largely been denied since the 1990 Taylor Report ordered clubs in the top two tiers to convert to all-seater stadiums by 1994 in the wake of the 1989 Hillsborough disaster in which 96 Liverpool fans lost their lives in a crush during an FA Cup semi-final.
However, many decry the loss of atmosphere at grounds as well as the dangers of fans standing in seated areas.
A report from the Sports Grounds Safety Authority (SGSA) recently said rail seating could have a "positive impact on spectator safety" while the government said it would work with fans' groups to introduce safe standing areas.
Sports Minister Nigel Adams said there was still more work to be done and that safety was the priority, but added: "Over a million people watch live football at a ground every week, and having spoken to fans across the country, I know that safe standing is an issue many feel passionately about."
While top-flight clubs must await a government decision on safe standing, third-tier Shrewsbury Town in 2018 became the first club in England and Wales to install rail seating.
The Premier League and Football League have both said they will support clubs choosing to implement safe standing if local authorities allow it.
"We were told many times over the years that we were wasting our time and it would never happen," M.U.S.T said. "Finally we can see the end is in sight."
United's bid for safe standing was welcomed by Jon Darch, of the Safe Standing campaign group.
"It is fantastic news that the world's most famous club is seeking to enhance spectator safety in this way," he told Reuters.
"I can see no reason why (the Sports Minister) shouldn't give Spurs, Wolves, Man Utd and any other club fitting such seats the green light to operate safe standing as soon as the seats are in place and the safety authorities are happy."