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Wolves claim first with seating venture

Wolverhampton Wanderers has claimed a first for the English Premier League by announcing that it will install a new barrier seating solution at Molineux, while images have been revealed of the football club’s future vision for its historic home.

The announcements were made as Wolves celebrated a hugely successful return to the top flight at its end of season awards on Tuesday evening. In January, the West Midlands club announced that it would pilot a section of seating options that could be used for safe standing should government legislation on all-seater stadia change.

Molineux became one of the first grounds in the Premier League to pilot the seating options, with the UK government having last year commissioned an official review into safe standing. Standing has been outlawed in the top two leagues of English football since the Hillsborough disaster in 1989, which claimed the lives of 96 Liverpool fans.

Wolves had now said it will become the first Premier League club to install seats incorporating barriers in an existing stadium. The club has said all seats in the Sir Jack Hayward Stand will be replaced this summer by a new barrier seating solution. Furthermore, all seats in the stadium’s Stan Cullis quadrant will be fitted with an independent barrier. Both options will fully comply with the Sports Ground Safety Authority’s (SGSA) most recent guidance.

The latest edition of the SGSA’s Green Guide contains guidelines on the use of ‘seats incorporating barriers’ and ‘seats with independent barriers’. It has been confirmed by the SGSA that, provided certain strict conditions are met, both independent barriers and seats incorporating barriers can be licensed as compliant with the government’s all-seater policy.

Wolves said that with a number of seats in the Sir Jack Hayward Stand identified as coming to the end of their life cycle, and with a desire to mitigate the safety risks of persistent standing, barrier seating will be installed this summer, in time for the beginning of the 2019-20 season. The Sir Jack Hayward Stand, otherwise known as the South Bank, houses the club’s most vocal fans, the majority of whom choose to stand, rather than sit, at games.

Wolves managing director Laurie Dalrymple said: “In April, we sent all supporters who have a season ticket in the South Bank a survey asking them a number of questions about their match day habits, including whether or not they would be in favour of barrier seating in the stand. An overwhelming majority of 97 per cent told us they would be in favour of the change.

“For some time, we have been working very closely with the Sports Ground Safety Authority and our Safety Advisory Group to evaluate our options, and the results of this survey meant we were happy to move forwards with the work this summer, with no negative implications to the capacity of either stand.

“It is important to stress that these will not be safe-standing areas, and we will continue to have a management plan in place to ensure compliance with the governments all-seater policy. The Sports Ground Safety Authority will be closely monitoring Molineux and particularly any new seating arrangements to ensure our continued compliance with the licence conditions.

“Of course, Tottenham Hotspur’s new stadium was built with a similar solution already installed, but Wolves will become the first club to install rail seating in an existing stadium, and I think that is something we should be very proud of.”

Meanwhile, local newspaper the Express & Star has obtained renderings from the club of how Molineux could look amid ongoing work into potential redevelopment of the stadium. The redevelopment of the club’s home since 1889 has been put on hold since Wolves’ relegation from the Premier League in 2012. The current Stan Cullis Stand, located opposite to the Sir Jack Hayward Stand, opened that year and was converted from a single-tier structure to a two-tier design – a move that proved unpopular with fans.

Chinese conglomerate Fosun International, which took over Wolves in the summer of 2016, has major ambitions for the West Midlands club to become an established force in the Premier League. The last major redevelopment of Molineux, completed in the early 1990s, made it one of the finest stadia in English football, but Molineux has since fallen behind many other modern venues.

Dalrymple in February said renovation work was likely to begin on the Steve Bull Stand, the oldest structure currently in place, in 2020. The club has long-term plans to expand the 32,000-seat stadium into a 50,000-capacity venue and the renderings published yesterday were highlighted by an eye catching single-tier South Bank.

Wolves drew an average attendance of 31,030 last season and Dalrymple yesterday said the club plans to raise capacity to between 37,000 and 38,000 “in the short term”. He added to BBC Sport: “I am comfortable we could build a stadium to around the mid-40,000s, potentially a bit higher than that. Assuming we continue with our on-field aspirations and how we are delivering in that aspect, we would have a football club that could deliver those capacities.”

Images: Wolves