Safe Standing Takes Another Step
Last weekend the EFL contacted League One and Two clubs and informed them that they had the choice of whether or not to introduce the new 'rail seats' that are a topic of discussion in the Safe Standing Debate.
With previous expressions of interest from some Premier League and Championship clubs, this season saw Celtic trial the rail seating design at their Stadium, and last week the Football League received the go ahead from the Sports Ground Safety Authority, the government body responsible for ground safety for clubs who are not subject to all seater requirements, to have the choice themselves.
Football League chief executive Shaun Harvey himself said that whilst the decision wouldn't see the 21 applicable clubs suddenly surge for rail seating, the 'symbolic value' of the decision itself shouldn't be overlooked, especially as rail seating of this sort is yet to be licensed as seating per se.
The fsf.org.uk cover Harvey's words following the development.
'The symbolic value of this decision should not be overlooked as I believe it demonstrates an encouraging direction of travel that will hopefully lead to further progress on our other aims in the period ahead. It is also recognition that the representations we are making about EFL Clubs wanting to offer fans a modern and safe supporter experience in seats and on terraces is increasingly being heard and understood. Our objective remains to secure the opportunity for any of our Clubs to have standing accommodation at their stadium and we will continue to lobby on this basis.'
'This is the first time the SGSA have signalled that rail seating could be licenced for use at English and Welsh football grounds. In practice, I think it's fairly unlikely that clubs will choose to take up this opportunity given they are already permitted to utilise traditional terracing and because of the significant cost of installing rail seating. Additionally, the government is not currently minded to allow these clubs to use rail seating at all (in either standing or seated mode) if they become subject to the all-seater policy at a future point. Although, it is closely monitoring the installation of 3,000 rail seats at Celtic Park.'
FSF safe standing campaign co-ordinator Peter Daykin obviously welcomed the step.
'This represents more progress in the campaign to reintroduce standing at top-flight football and as such is extremely welcome. Along with standing at Scottish Premier League matches through the Celtic rail seating trial, this is another thing supporters can do this year that we couldn't last.'
'However it still means rail seating is only available to clubs in Leagues One and Two where standing is already allowed and whilst the SGSA describe it as 'dual purpose', at present they are not licensing it as seated accommodation. In practical terms this news won't herald any meaningful change. It is highly unlikely clubs at this level will install new rail seating areas just for standing or upgrade existing safe terraces to a technology that is more expensive but offers no clear benefit. Overall we`re pleased the SGSA have opened the door for new, dual purpose technologies in this way and we look forward to the debate continuing now that English Premier League clubs have mandated the league to look into the issue of standing. We hope the outcome, after proper consultation, will be that they join their EFL colleagues in pushing the British Government for a change in the law so clubs and supporters can begin to experience more choice in how we all watch football - whether that's from seats, dual purpose technologies like rail seating or existing safe terraces.'
With it only applying to 21 clubs, the exceptions here are the likes of Plymouth Argyle whose six years in the Championship made them subject to all seater requirements and others are ruled out if they spent three or more seasons in the Premier League and Championship since 1994.
Another small step in the right direction though and to be welcomed on that basis.