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Manchester United given green light for rail-seating trial – a good day for football?

Manchester United have confirmed that they have been given approval by Trafford Council for a barrier seating-trial to take place at Old Trafford. United made the proposal to the local authority earlier in the year which came after changes to the Sports Grounds Safety Authority (SGSA) Guide to Safety at Sports Grounds (Green Guide).

United then carried out a feasibility study and confirmation has been relayed by the club that the approval has been given, which was relayed to supporters’ representatives at last week’s Fans’ Forum, which would have been gracefully received, despite the Coronavirus pandemic stopping all football back in mid-March.

There has been long-standing discussion into installing rail-seating at Old Trafford for a long time and it has been discussed in previous Fans’ Forums and also talked about by MUST, the Manchester United Supporters Trust. Supporters of the club will be looking forward to this becoming a reality, then things may change in football, in the stands.

The approval from Trafford Council is an agreement in principle which will see the club install 1,500 rail seats in the North-East Quadrant, in sections N2401 and N2402. I am sure there will be a clamour to be in this blocks of the stadium when the rail seating has been installed and ready to be trialed. Of course, this could be a while away considering what is happening right now.

United now need to speak to suppliers and discuss installation options and work within current UK Government recommendations relating to construction site operating procedures and social distancing – because of the coronavirus pandemic. They will also need to open discussions with the SGSA to make changes to the clubs stadium license.

United’s managing director, Richard Arnold spoke about this news confirming that the clubs priority right now will to be look after everyone because of the pandemic, which is a daunting situation. This may not be the right time to talk about such a thing but it shows that there will be a future after this virus and something to look forward to. He said:

“It should be stated, up front, that our overwhelming priority is to keep our people safe from the COVID-19 pandemic. It may seem strange to talk about stadium plans at this time, but football and our fans will return when it is safe, and our preparations for that must continue in the background.

“This announcement is the latest step in what has been a long journey with our fans. We have listened to their feedback, in particular, the representations made by MUST, and worked with Trafford Council to develop and approve this proposal.

“Our belief is that the introduction of barrier seats will enhance spectator safety in areas of the stadium where – as with other clubs – we have seen examples of persistent standing. It also allows us to future-proof the stadium in the event of any changes to the current all-seater stadium policy. If the trial is successful, we may consider further implementation of barrier seating in other parts of the stadium.”

It is a well-known that Old Trafford’s atmosphere has not been the best in recent seasons and the club has been trying to solve that. A singing section has been introduced, which may not be something many are interested in but it has helped. At European stadiums, supporters have been allowed to stand in matches, although not in European competitions.

This has helped the atmosphere. Look at Borussia Dortmund’s stadium, the Signal Iduna Park in particular there is an entire stand called the Südtribüne in which 24,454 (capacity) supporters do not sit for matches. Personally, I would rather be standing to watch football. There are dangers in the way stadiums are designed for standing at the moment, this will be much safer.

Obviously, there is a long way to go before this sort of thing is prominent in football and 1,500 seats is not a lot but it is a trial to see how it goes. If it is successful, and I have the belief that it will be, the club could implement this sort of seating in complete blocks, or even large parts of the stadium – the Stretford End for instance. How great does that sound?

The need for Safe Standing at Old Trafford

Long gone are the days when groups of adolescents from Mancunian suburbs such as Gorton, Longsight, and Wythenshawe, etc would travel in their numbers to Old Trafford. This is the Old Trafford of the past, filled with noise and imagery of terraces covered in red, white and black. Perhaps the 1970s and the 1980s was Old Trafford’s peak time for atmosphere as people stood in solidarity, singing and chanting about United.

However, today, like most Major football stadiums, Old Trafford has become a space of commercialism and cronyism due to the removal of standing in 1989. The 1989 Football Spectators Act forced football grounds in England to become all-seated venues. This came after Hillsborough and various other trouble involving hooliganism.

As football approached the 21st Century, the working-class terraces were no longer in existence in the Premier League. The bigger United got meant the global appeal the club had grown bigger also. This drew in people who would not usually attend football matches to Old Trafford. By no fault of their own, these people were culturally unaware of what happened years previous in football stands such as singing, chanting and swearing.

This has created an environment that alienates the average working-class Manchester United fan that travels home and away to watch United. Additionally, this has also had a disastrous impact on the atmosphere at Old Trafford.

An obvious solution to save Old Trafford’s atmosphere would be the introduction of safe standing. An area where people could stand and chant just like they did in the 70s and 80s but this time the terrace would be monitored safely. Most recently a petition in favour of safe-standing in the Premier League and Championship has reached 100,000 signatures meaning the concept must be debated in the House of Commons. Labour has also backed the campaign for safe standing.

Celtic have a 2,900-capacity safe-standing section at Parkhead that has a massive impact on the Stadiums wonderful atmosphere. Many die-hard United fans would feel that the introduction of a safe standing section at Old Trafford would benefit the atmosphere greatly. Chief executive of the Manchester United Supporters Trust (MUST) Duncan Drasdo recently spoke out on the topic. He said:

“We believe this is a crucial step towards regaining the atmosphere which we’ve seen decline since stadia went all seater. MUST has played a key role in the campaign right from the beginning so it is something we particularly welcome having worked for so long to see standing return to our stadia.”

There have been many cases at Old Trafford where a fan may stand up in his seat and start chanting only to be told by stewards and even fellow fans around him to shut up and sit down. It’s a far cry from when Old Trafford’s atmosphere was electric on match day. A safe standing section would improve atmosphere and lower ticket prices for fans.

It would also provide an outlet for fans who want to sing, chant and stand to be allowed to do so freely without any interruption. At the same time, it would create sections in the stadium for people who want to sit down and watch the match without anyone standing up in front of them.

Written by Shane Purcell

copyright: JW