Councillors in Southampton are to discuss the possibility of adding a safe standing section at St Mary’s, the home stadium of the city’s Premier League football club, while West Bromwich Albion’s hopes of trialling the scheme have been rejected by the government.
Standing at matches was outlawed in the top two divisions of English football following the Taylor Report into the 1989 Hillsborough Disaster, which claimed the lives of 96 Liverpool fans.
Last year half of Premier League clubs said they would consider incorporating safe standing on a trial basis and Southampton City Council is to discuss the matter next month. Local newspaper the Daily Echo noted that safe standing at St Mary’s was first raised by Redbridge Independent councillor Andrew Pope last year.
“I want to see action not words from the council,” Pope told the Echo. “I very much hope that they will support my motion in May. The vast majority of clubs support safe standing. It’s a matter of safety and it’s important it goes ahead.
“It will improve the atmosphere at the stadium and will stop the constant battle between stewards and fans.”
Pope added: “We need the owners of Saints to back the proposal. The motion is to request that the football club formally support the safe standing. It’s just a question of when it happens not if it happens. The club has to respect their fans.”
Jeremy Moulton, the leader of Southampton Conservatives, has also backed the proposal.
Meanwhile, West Brom has today (Monday) announced that its hopes of introducing a safe-standing section at The Hawthorns have been dismissed.
The West Midlands club had offered to run a pilot scheme in its Smethwick End stand for both home and away fans, and last year submitted a formal application to install such a section this summer.
However, Minister for Sport Tracey Crouch has ruled that there are no current plans to change the all-seater policy at football stadia and has vetoed the move.
West Brom’s director of operations Mark Miles had proposed a rail-seating section at The Hawthorns and has criticised the decision to reject the move.
“I find the decision from the Minister of Sport both surprising and disappointing,” he said. “It will certainly be disappointing for many, many supporters I have spoken to who were in favour of what we were proposing. It has also been a regular topic of discussion at our Albion Assembly meetings where the members support has been clear.”
He added: “I think the Minister has taken a short-sighted view and is preventing the club from creating a safer environment for supporters. The all-seater policy was developed over 25 years ago and football is a very different place now.
“The system we proposed is well-tested across Europe and has also worked successfully at Celtic, who are governed by different legislation than in England and Wales. We were prepared to run a pilot which would enable the club to gather data and feedback to further inform us in the issue of crowd safety.
“But I have become convinced that rail-seating would enhance safety. The club is extremely disappointed with this decision and we have written back requesting a review.”
Scottish Premiership club Celtic has a rail seating section at its home stadium. The Taylor Report does not apply to Scottish teams.
Image: Tony Hisgett