LONDON, Feb 11 (Reuters) - 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 begin using the seats this season.
Rail seats are designed to fold up, giving fans the option to stand. United have experienced long-running problems with fans refusing to sit down in parts of Old Trafford.
“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 the Bundesliga but so far no clubs in the Premier League have installed it, although Tottenham Hotspur’s new stadium is adapted for rail seating and Wolverhampton Wanderers installed some in a stand at Molineux.
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 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.
“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,” Sports Minister Nigel Adams said.
While top-flight clubs have not been able to allow “standing” areas by using rail seating, lower level sides have done so.
In 2018 Shrewsbury Town became the first club in England and Wales to install rail seating.
It now looks increasingly likely that some standing areas will be returned to clubs in the Premier League.
“M.U.S.T has been leading the campaign for safe standing in UK stadia for more than 20 years along with colleagues at other club fan groups and coordinated by the Football Supporters Association (FSA),” the statement said.
“We were told many times over the years that we were wasting our time and it would never happen. Finally we can see the end is in sight — a lesson for supporters organisations that determination and persistence pays in the end.” (Reporting by Martyn Herman Editing by Toby Davis)