West Brom have seen their proposal to introduce a ‘safe standing’ area at The Hawthorns next season turned down by the government.
The Baggies had hoped to remove 3,600 of the existing seats in the Smethwick End of the stadium and replace them with ‘rail seats’, which can be locked in an upright position to allow fans to stand.
The idea wasn’t necessarily to introduce extra seating, but to use rail seats as a means to safely manage an existing problem with “persistent standing” in the Smethwick End.
This from the club’s official website:
After lengthy research into the safe-standing option, [West Brom] had proposed to install “rail seating” across the Smethwick in the belief that it would be safer for fans in a section of the stadium where persistent standing is a problem.
Research was presented by West Brom’s director of operations, Mark Miles, who visited Celtic and Hoffenheim to watch the same system being implemented on matchdays.
However, the plan has today been rejected by Minister for Sport Tracey Crouch, who told the club that the government have no plans to deviate from their all-seater policy as regards football stadiums.
Speaking to the Baggies’ website, Miles expressed his frustrations thus:
I find the decision from the Minister of Sport both surprising and disappointing. It will certainly be disappointing for many, many supporters I have spoken to who were in favour of what we were proposing.
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.
Miles also confirmed that West Brom had asked to run a pilot scheme in order to gather feedback from fans, but that was also snubbed.
While the decision looks to be fairly conclusive, the club have written back to the Sports Grounds Safety Authority to urge a review.
West Brom may well be playing in the same division as Shrewsbury Town next season. One club has been granted permission to install rail seating, the other denied. Ludicrous. #safestanding #StandUpforChoice https://t.co/71dkGB0xxu
— The FSF (@The_FSF) April 9, 2018
Unfortunately for those who believe safe standing is a viable and even necessary option for the future of stadium football, the spectre of Hillsborough still looms far too large for those in charge to take the risk.