Shrewsbury Town's safe standing is Premier League stepping stone
Shrewsbury Town’s pioneering safe standing section has been declared a success – and is acting as a stepping stone to Premier League and Championship clubs.
Monitors from the Sports Ground Safety Authority have been to two games at the Montgomery Waters Meadow.
Their findings will form part of a review that could lead to safe standing becoming a standard feature in English football grounds.
Today Labour deputy leader Tom Watson hailed Shrewsbury Town for its pioneering work.
Mr Watson has been one of the leading advocates for safe standing, which allows fans to stand but with the safety of a rail on each row. He has backed West Bromwich Albion’s plans for a safe standing section at The Hawthorns. Wolves also want to create a section at Molineux to allow fans to stand safely.
Standing in English football’s top two divisions was outlawed by the Football Spectators’ Act in 1989 following the Hillsborough disaster. West Bromwich Albion’s bid to convert 3,600 seats in the Smethwick End of The Hawthorns into ‘rail seats’ was turned down earlier this summer.
Mr Watson said ministers, who have promised to look into the matter, should act quickly.
He added: “The success of safe standing at Shrewsbury Town is yet another reason why we should empower clubs to make their own decisions on this.
“It’s ridiculous that it is mandarins in Whitehall that get to decide rather than fans and local safety authorities.
“The clamour from clubs like Albion shows the widespread desire to allow safe standing.
“Labour believes that local safety authorities and clubs should have the power to make their own decisions. The Government should agree to this too.”
Pioneering terrace a stand-out success
It has been declared an outstanding success – and the world of football is following its progress.
In the six weeks since being unveiled to supporters, the safe standing area at Shrewsbury Town Football Club has been proved to work.
With an average occupancy rate of 76 per cent per game, the stands have more than paid their way.
And they offer a safe and straight forward option for fans who want to stand to watch their football.
The system of railed terrace, pioneered in Germany, was brought to Shrewsbury in the close season.
Now it is hoped the safe standing area will lead the way for clubs up and down the country.
Pressure is increasing for Championship and Premier League clubs to be allowed the option of installing safe standing. It remains a sensitive issue post-Hillsborough, but Glasgow giants Celtic have proved it can be adopted safely on a large scale.
Shrewsbury Town’s experiment is admittedly modest, but its significance should not be under-estimated.
For the first four home games the numbers using the safe standing area recorded were 495, 475, 347 and 375. The area is being monitored by a host of higher level clubs, including West Bromwich Albion.
Town chief executive Brian Caudwell said: “Our average so far is 423 per game and we are delighted with that level of occupancy. The atmosphere has greatly improved at matches and many fans are enjoying the experience more. Many who sit in other areas of the stadium have commented to me how good the safe standing has really helped the atmosphere at matches so its improving everyone’s match day experience.
“The majority of those who like to stand have relocated to the safe standing which helps ensure they are standing in an safe environment rather than standing at seats which is prevalent at all levels of football but unsafe.
“The Sports Ground Safety Authority, a body to advise the government on sports ground safety, have been to two games so far and are keeping in touch with the success of our safe standing area to monitor it closely.
“Personally I am sure that Shrewsbury Town’s experiences and success of the first safe standing area will eventually be rolled out throughout the Premiership and Championship.”
Fans on the Blue & Amber website have also been impressed with the introduction of the safe standing area. Many have said that the atmosphere at the ground has improved with the crowd roaring its approval for the new look team.
The safe standing area includes seats that are fully retractable and a rail for each supporter. It completely removes the risk of surges of the type that can cause crush injuries.
Dan Baker, a season ticket holder from Newtown, said: “Since the rumours started that the club was introducing safe standing, there has been a buzz around the club.
“The fact that we are the first in England and Wales gives Shrewsbury bragging rights which we often don’t get.
“In the short period since its introduction, the atmosphere has improved. The noise carries better throughout the ground and it is slowly growing each week. I have noticed the other three sides joining in with chants as the safe standing area is more visible and it seems to encourage people to join in.
“The idea of standing at a game is nothing new, but with the rail, it changes the way you watch the game.
“Standing in an all-seated area was dangerous as the risk of falling was fairly high. The safety aspect of the rail seats makes you obviously feel safer and not have to worry about the rows behind rushing forward after a goal.
“It has also created an identity with a section of supporters. There is a sense of belonging that brings people together and everybody has seemed to have enjoyed the experience. It is still in its ‘honeymoon/novelty’ period, however I think that this is the way forward for stadia in the UK and I feel it will improve atmosphere in grounds as it has in Germany and with Celtic.”
Roger Groves, chairman of the Shrewsbury Town Supporters’ Parliament is equally delighted.
“I am really, really pleased with how it has gone. The numbers have been good despite what’s been going on on the pitch. It has been really successful, not just from the number of people using it but from the atmosphere it has created. It is louder and more vibrant. From the feedback we have received it has been welcomed and we are all over the moon with it. There is scope to improve it further. Long may it continue.”
Standing in English football’s top two divisions was outlawed by the Football Spectators’ Act in 1989 following the Hillsborough disaster. West Bromich Albion’s bid to convert 3,600 seats in the Smethwick End of The Hawthorns into ‘rail seats’ was turned down earlier this summer.
Undeterred, club bosses have pledged to carry on with their plan. Other clubs in the Midlands showing an interest in installing rail seats at their grounds including Aston Villa and Wolves.
The Molineux club expressed its desire to explore the system earlier this year and a poll of 3,000 supporters showed 90 per cent in favour.
In a wider survey run by the EFL, 94 per cent of the 33,000 respondents from across the country said fans should be allowed to choose whether they wanted to stand or sit at games.
And in a Premier League survey, 70 per cent of fans agreed in principle that standing should be offered as a choice.
Government reviewing ban on standing at Premier League and Championship matches
Safe standing at Shrewsbury Town’s Montgomery Waters Meadow will have a direct influence on whether terracing will return to the Premier League.
The government’s review of the legal ban on standing at Premier League and Championship matches will consider new research into all aspects of the prohibition.
That includes a study on how the standing area at Shrewsbury has been received, with ministers receiving direct reports from officials who have been to games and seen for themselves how it has worked.
The concept of safe standing came about because of the practice of large numbers of fans to stand in seating areas. This has led to conflict between fans who want to stand and those who want to sit and has also led to general safety concerns.
The department for digital, culture, media and sport (DCMS) has issued a tender document inviting companies to bid for the project of thoroughly researching all the implications of reversing the standing ban, following the announcement in June by the sports minister, Tracey Crouch, of a review.
The DCMS tender document records that the ban was imposed following the recommendation of Lord Justice Taylor in his second, final report into the 1989 Hillsborough disaster, in which 96 people died at the FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest.
The policy has not been reviewed since 1992, when football’s lower two divisions were exempted. The policy of the Hillsborough Family Support Group, whose members’ relatives were among those killed, remains opposed to a reversal of the ban.
Explaining the review, the DCMS tender says: “Given the passage of time and the many new developments in stadium safety and spectator accommodation, it is right that government consider carefully any change in policy, looking at all the evidence.”
The subject areas set out for research include an analysis of ‘the existing data’ on the safety record of matches at all levels under the all-seater policy; the ‘associated safety and injury risk’ of persistent standing in seated areas; and the safety of new ‘rail seating’ and other seating-standing combinations given the ‘evolution in stadium design, seating technology and modern crowd management approaches’.
Although the main focus of the research is on supporters’ safety, it will also examine evidence on ‘the wider impact of the all-seater policy’, including the ban’s effect on ticket prices, atmosphere, stewarding, fans’ behaviour and whether the reintroduction of standing could increase the risk of disorder.
The Premier League’s executive chairman, Richard Scudamore, said in June that the league in effect supports a reversal of the ban so that each club can make its own ‘local choice’. He said the league would be gathering all necessary evidence itself, to feed into the review.
Tottenham announced it would incorporate a section of seats in the home and away sections of its new 62,000-capacity stadium designed to be converted for standing if the law does change.
Donna-Maria Cullen, the club’s executive director, said research with Spurs supporters showed ‘overwhelming support for safe standing’, with the main reasons given being choice and atmosphere.
The government’s intention is to appoint a company that can complete the research by the end of this year, to inform consideration of whether the ban should be reversed and top clubs permitted to introduce modern standing.