WEST HAM co-Chairman David Gold has confirmed the club are exploring the introduction of safe standing at the London Stadium.
Now, with the Hammers seeking to establish an identity for the former Olympic Stadium after 112 years at the Boleyn Ground; Gold says he wants the London Stadium to be the first Premier League ground to embrace safe standing.
“I have been an advocate of this for many years and it is something I am working on.
“It was absolutely right after the Hillsborough tragedy that the Taylor Report suggested all-seater stadiums but that was 30 years ago and technology has moved on.
“As was the case at Celtic – we need to look at these possibilities and hold talks. That’s what I am doing.”
West Ham are planning to meet with the FA to discuss the idea, whilst a delegation of Premier League and Championship clubs are reported to be planning a visit to Celtic Park to see the Bhoys’ “North Curve” for themselves.
New FA Chairman Greg Clarke this week added his support saying:
“I’ve been a fan of safe standing. In the end, if people want to stand and you can make it safe for them to stand, why wouldn’t you let them?”
Stadium design has seen vast improvements since Lord Justice Taylor’s report into the 1989 Hillsborough Stadium Disaster where 96 Liverpool fans lost their lives, yet many still regard the notion of “safe standing” as a misnomer.
Whilst the Taylor Report found that standing itself was not inherently unsafe and blamed poor policing, overcrowding and stadium layout for the tragedy; the recommendation that all grounds in the old First and Second Divisions of the Football League should be all-seated by August 1994 was backed by Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government.
Despite individual ground regulations restricting supporters from standing, the practice itself is not illegal and is open to clubs’ own interpretation.
An amendment to the Football Spectators Act 1989 to allow standing in the Premier League and Championship would not require a new act of parliament but would require other clubs to follow David Gold’s lead.
Political support for safe standing is growing with the Welsh Conservatives calling for Westminster to transfer powers over stadium safety to the Welsh Assembly, potentially allowing Swansea and Cardiff fans to be among the first to enjoy a more atmospheric environment.
Each weekend, thousands stand in front of their seats with nothing more than the seat in front for protection. Whilst some clubs have accepted that areas of their stadium will never remain seated, West Ham have taken a dim view of the practice. The London Stadium has seen fans ejected by stewards for persistent standing, something the club hope to eliminate from the match day experience.
Elsewhere, Aston Villa’s new owners have signalled their support for the inclusion of a standing section at Villa Park; whilst Manchester United are believed to be keen to provide supporters with a safer and potentially more affordable match day experience. Meanwhile, PSV Eindhoven have become the first Dutch side to install rail seating at the Phillips Stadion.
British fans have looked on enviously as safe standing sections have brought good old fashioned affordable atmosphere to continental stadiums. Up until now, UK authorities have turned a blind eye to developments already commonplace in Germany’s Bundesliga. Meanwhile in the USA, MLS club San Jose Earthquakes have installed rail seating at their new home with new stadiums in Orlando and Minnesota due to follow suit.
The all-seater stadium has helped the Premier League attract a wider audience including families and corporate sponsors but many feel this has been at the expense of atmosphere.
The feeling of belonging standing on a terrace gives is a massive part of the culture that surrounds football and lends itself to the atmosphere of a game. Without the closeness of a standing environment, we lose some of the excitement, spontaneity and gallows humour that comes with supporting our team through rain and snow.
Celtic were the first club to bring rail seating to these shores and after David Gold’s signalled West Ham’s support, he may just have a race on his hands to become the first club to adopt safe standing in the Premier League.
Make no mistake, safe standing is coming to a stadium near you.
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