Liverpool has become the latest English Premier League football club to announce it will introduce rail seating in its stadium, but has maintained the move should not be interpreted as creating ‘safe standing’ areas.
Liverpool has said Anfield will trial the temporary installation of seats with safety rails in two areas of the stadium following a safety review by the Sports Grounds Safety Authority (SGSA). The review highlighted that during matches persistent standing in the Kop and Anfield Road lower tier is an issue that needs to be addressed to ensure supporters’ safety.
The SGSA’s regulatory focus is on reducing persistent standing risks in stadiums and avoiding potential crowd collapses. Research commissioned by the SGSA around the management of persistent standing areas has evidenced in its emerging findings that the installation of rails increases safety within all-seater stadiums.
Liverpool said it has had a management plan for persistent standing at Anfield for many years but following the SGSA’s most recent review it is now advising to install safety rails. The Kop and Anfield Road Stand will see a total of 7,800 seats updated in the trial, which will begin from the start of next season. Around 1,800 new seats will be located in the back of the Kop and 6,000 in the Anfield Road Stand lower tier.
The announcement was made after Liverpool yesterday (Tuesday) was given the green light to expand the capacity of Anfield by around 7,000 to more than 61,000. Liverpool City Council approved the proposed redevelopment of the stadium’s Anfield Road stand during a planning committee meeting. Liverpool has also been awarded permission to hold up to six concerts and major events at the stadium for a period of five years.
The subject of standing at football matches remains an emotive one for Liverpool following the Hillsborough disaster. Standing has been outlawed in the top two leagues of English football since the FA Cup semi-final game between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest in Sheffield on April 15, 1989, which claimed the lives of 96 Liverpool fans.
A judge last month ruled that two retired police officers and an ex-solicitor accused of altering police statements following the disaster have no case to answer. Liverpool yesterday said that despite the impending trial Anfield will remain an all-seater stadium, adding that the areas with the new seats and safety rails are not ‘safe standing’ areas.
The Liverpool Echo newspaper said the club this week sent a personal letter to all the Hillsborough families, updating them with all the relevant information about the trial before its formal announcement. Liverpool supporters union, Spirit of Shankly, took a group of fans, Hillsborough families and survivors to Scottish Premiership club Celtic in 2018 for a look at how rail seating works.
Liverpool said the seating being installed at Anfield includes normal stadium seats with an integrated safety rail behind them to avoid a crowd collapse. The design is to enable fans to stand safely at key moments in the game, like goal celebrations, but must revert to a seat at other times.
Season ticket holders whose seats are impacted by these changes will be contacted in due course to explain the changes and provide options to remain in the new seat or move to a standard seat. Andy Hughes, managing director of Liverpool, said: “The safety of our supporters when they come to Anfield is our absolute priority and we are fully committed to working with the SGSA on the trial of these new seats at Anfield.
“It is critical that we listen to the experts and deliver their recommendations to address this safety issue. We have informed key stakeholders and thank all fans for their input and support during this trial. We will complete a full review of the trial in 12 months at the end of next season.”
With the installation of the new seats at Anfield, Liverpool joins a number of Premier League clubs who are already using this safety method, with further teams set to install safety rails during the summer.
In April, Chelsea announced a series of planned upgrades at Stamford Bridge, with new rail seating set to be installed at the stadium for the 2021-22 season. Subject to approval from the SGSA and its Safety Advisory Group (SAG), the rail seating will be fitted in the Matthew Harding Lower and Shed End Upper and Lower tiers.
The change will result in just over 500 seats being lost in the areas concerned but Chelsea said the decision had been taken ahead of any future government decision to introduce safe standing across the Premier League.
Chelsea’s announcement came after Manchester City in March detailed plans to install 5,620 rail seats at the Etihad Stadium. Manchester United has also received approval for a barrier seating trial, while Wolverhampton Wanderers in 2019-20 became the first Premier League club to install seats incorporating barriers in an existing stadium.
Tottenham Hotspur also fitted rail seating at its new stadium.