Manchester City has moved to follow Premier League rival Manchester United in looking to embrace safe standing at its stadium.
City has announced that work will begin this summer to install 5,620 rail seats in the lower tier of the Etihad Stadium’s South Stand, including the South East and South West corners. The installation of the rail seating area, which incorporates a portion of the section for away fans, will be one of the largest of its kind in the Premier League, City said, following the conclusion of extensive research and consultation undertaken by the club.
As part of this, the club has worked closely with stakeholders including the Local Authority and the Sports Ground Safety Authority (SGSA) to bring forward a proposal which it said will enhance safety in an area where persistent standing occurs. The club said it has also continued to listen to the views of a wide range of supporters and has engaged with official groups, including City Matters – the club’s elected supporter network.
The prospect of safe standing areas returning to stadia across English football took another step forward in February 2020 after the SGSA said initial research had indicated that the installation of such solutions has had a “positive impact” on spectator safety.
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. However, there has been increasing efforts to return safe standing, which has received provisional support from the Football Association (FA), Premier League and English Football League (EFL), as well as from fan groups.
Whilst there is no indication as to when a change in legislation may occur, City said it has taken the decision to install these seats over the summer to minimise disruption to the matchday operation when supporters return to the Etihad Stadium for the 2021-22 season.
The safe standing decision comes amid wider changes to the Etihad Stadium. City last week said it would reduce the capacity of Etihad Stadium by around 1,100 to make way for its new ‘supersized LED’ pitchside advertising system. City announced last month that it would offer the most commercially valuable pitchside media space in the Premier League after commencing installation of the new two-tier digital display system.
Commenting on the installation of rail seating at the Etihad Stadium, Danny Wilson, managing director of Manchester City Operations, said: “The development and installation of a bespoke rail seating system at the Etihad Stadium will not only improve supporter safety but also ensures that until there is a change in legislation which permits safe standing, the matchday experience of supporters and seasoncard holders in the lower tier of the South Stand will remain unaffected.
“Whilst we will continue to remind supporters that they should remain seated during matches, we are also pleased to inform them that the installation of a rail seating area means the Etihad Stadium will be ready and prepared should the government bring forward legislation to introduce safe standing in the Premier League.”
In April 2020, Manchester United confirmed it had received approval for a barrier seating trial to take place at Old Trafford, adding it is hoping to have the work completed in time for when fans return to the stadium.
United submitted a proposal to Trafford Council earlier in the year, following changes to the SGSA Guide to Safety at Sports Grounds (Green Guide) and a subsequent feasibility study which was carried out by the club.
The approval from Trafford Council is an agreement in principle for the club to install around 1,500 barrier seats in the North East Quadrant, in sections N2401 and N2402. Wolverhampton Wanderers last season became the first Premier League club to install seats incorporating barriers in an existing stadium.
All seats in the Sir Jack Hayward Stand at Molineux have been replaced by a new barrier seating solution. Furthermore, all seats in the stadium’s Stan Cullis quadrant have been fitted with an independent barrier. Both options fully comply with the SGSA’s most recent guidance.
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. Tottenham Hotspur also fitted rail seating at its new stadium.
Image: Manchester City