Shrewsbury Town safe-standing: How others are learning from trailblazing Salop
Standing at football is nothing new. Many Wolves fans will remember the days in the old Molineux Street Stand, and being swept up in the noise and chaos.
Molineux has changed a lot since then. The stadium is all-seated and orderly, even if it is still loud enough.
Soon supporters could have the chance to get back on their feet. Wolves have become one of the first Premier League teams to pilot potential safe-standing, ready for any change in government policy on all-seater stadia.
Currently, clubs in the top two tiers of English football may not have traditional terraces in their grounds.
But the latest edition of the Sports Grounds Safety Authority’s Green Guide, published last year, contains guidelines on the use of “seats incorporating barriers”.
Three different types of rail seat have been installed in a currently-unused block of the Billy Wright Stand, with two further options due to be installed this week, to illustrate the options for stadia under the new guidance.
Wolves fans got a taste of safe-standing at the weekend, when they drew 2-2 with Shrewsbury Town at the Montgomery Waters Meadow.
The Salop Leisure stand for home supporters contains England’s first ever safe standing area, which opened at the beginning of the current football season.
“It has been really successful,” says the League One club’s chief executive Brian Caldwell. “As well as the good PR of becoming the first club in England and Wales to install safe standing, it has also generated a really good atmosphere.
“It’s helping the atmosphere in that area of the ground, but also across the stadium too. On average it has 75 per cent occupancy and everyone seems to be really enjoying it.”
Town installed safe-standing after a crowdfunding campaign helped raise £65,000.
Many clubs in Leagues One and Two – Town’s regular haunts since moving to The Meadow in 2007 – still have regular terracing, but Town’s home of the last 12 years was an all-seated affair, quite unlike the spit and sawdust Gay Meadow which was Town’s home for the preceding century, and fans have responded to it well.
Spaces in safe-standing are allocated individually, and you can’t just walk into the area and stand wherever you like. After buying a ticket and passing through the South Stand’s main turnstiles fans have to collect a wristband, which is checked by a steward at the entrance to safe-standing.
Once inside, the atmosphere is far more boistrous than in other parts of the ground, though, and its introduction has led to a noticeable rise in the decibel levels at The Meadow.
Last season Wolves managing director Laurie Dalrymple confirmed the club’s interest in Molineux being used for a safe-standing pilot.
He said: “As a club we are keen to be at the forefront of innovation and progression, so the opportunity to install these examples of potential safe-standing solutions was one that we were very happy to explore.”
Brian Caldwell joined fans in the safe standing for Saturday’s FA Cup thriller. He believes it won’t be long before the government looks at changing the law.
“We were the pilot club and we have shown over the last six months or so how successful it can be,” he added. “It is only a matter of time before the government looks at changing things. To be honest it must be a frustration to Premier League clubs to see people standing in the stands where there are seats and they can’t install safe standing.
“I also think that situation where people are standing up in front of seats up and down the country is less safe, and if someone falls over then it can have a domino effect.”
Safe-standing campaigner Jon Darch who runs a Safe Standing Roadshow thinks legislation could change as soon as this year.
He said: “It is fitting that Molineux should be the first operational stadium in the Premier League to install rail-seating as it was the first ground I took the Safe Standing Roadshow to in 2011, for a presentation to the Fans’ Parliament.
“We anticipate that in the future Safety Advisory Groups will be looking closely at clubs with areas of persistent standing, and will most likely encourage them to enhance spectator safety in those areas by installing rail seats.”