After a meeting on Thursday (17 November) the Premier League clubs have tasked the Premier League with scoping out the issues surrounding 'safe standing' to inform a debate about whether it could be introduced in England.
The move was described as “probably the first step” towards safe standing by David Gold, a co-owner of West Ham and one of the more enthusiastic proponents of the plan.
“Premier League clubs today held initial discussions on safe standing. Given that fan safety is of paramount concern clubs are understandably cautious and there was no overall consensus on the matter,” said a Premier League spokesman.
“This is a complex and emotive topic with a number of issues, varying from club to club, which need to be considered carefully before clubs can decide if they wish to pursue any changes, including legislative, that are required to allow them the option of safe standing areas in their grounds.”
A number of potential hurdles remain before the sort of rail seating commonplace in Germany and introduced at Celtic Park for the first time this season could be considered in the Premier League and Championship. Among them are the sensitivities around the Hillsborough disaster, with the Hillsborough Family Support Group remaining implacably opposed to any move that would allow standing in major English grounds.
However, the Liverpool supporters’ group Spirit of Shankly has launched a consultation on the matter and the Hillsborough Justice Campaign has also said it supports a full debate of the issues.
Those who support safe standing argue that it would not mean a return to the unsafe terraces of old but in fact should be safer than the current situation, where many fans stand in front of their seats in defiance of the rules.
It is understood that the government believes the introduction of safe standing would require a change in the law but that it would involve relatively straightforward secondary legislation. At present, however, the sports minister, Tracey Crouch, is not minded to recommend any change.
“The government currently has no plans to change its position and introduce standing accommodation at grounds covered by the all-seater requirement,” said a spokesman for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.
A majority of Premier League clubs are now believed to be in favour of trials, however, while Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur have designed their new stadiums to be able to accommodate rail seating if it is allowed.
The Premier League will investigate the full range of issues around the topic before reporting back to the clubs. “The clubs have tasked the Premier League with scoping out the safety, supporter, technical and legislative issues surrounding safe standing before any further discussions, based on the facts, can take place,” said a spokesman.
Any review is also likely to examine how the experience of introducing rail seating for almost 3,000 fans has played out north of the border, where Celtic introduced it this season.
Delegations from a number of clubs, including Manchester City and Manchester United, are due to travel to Scotland to see it in action this season where the 'rail seats' used there were supplied by Ferco Seating.