Date: 23rd September 2021 at 8:00am
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Here at Vital Villa, nay Vital Football, we’ve long been supporters of giving the choice back to fans over whether or not they would like to stand at football matches, or rest their weary legs after whatever kind of day they may have had – and dare I say, whatever life has thrown at them health wise.

And it’s always made perfect sense. Back in my 20’s I’d have loved to have stood on the old Holte End and not only seen, but experienced at close quarters the atmosphere at play, but I have to rely on the stories of those wiser than me even though I’ve spent rather a large part of my time at Villa Park stood on my feet. Now I’ve pushed past 40, yes, the seat would be ideal as I don’t think I could manage to bounce around for 90 minutes any longer.

That’s always really been the true and core debate, although for understandable reasons Hillsborough as the driver of seating has long dominated events, as have other tragedies in football at other grounds – and naturally, those sad events have a big and emotional pull for plenty in the game as it’s not something anyone ever wants to see again.

But in fairness, we really haven’t. Ground safety and design has improved massively over the years, even where seats are not required in League One and Two (yes, there is a capacity argument to be made) but even in older stadiums, safe standing goes on every week with thousands of people taking part and many would argue it was terrace barriers that needed to be better deployed, having had their own experiences of ‘seats’ and tumbles at moments of elation and frustration.

Some fans lean back in anticipation, others rise to their feet – it’s not really a choice, it’s just what you individually do. What’s also not a choice is how that effects the viewing of those around you and that’s the key point. We are all there to watch the same thing, and back in my day even as a stander, I was forced to stand at points when I’d have rather have sat for a bit longer, purely because others were standing and I didn’t buy a ticket to stare at someone’s backside.

Vital Villa’s Standing – Sit Down Forum Thread

In the last few years with the emergence, promotion and testing of ‘rail seating’ at live games, there has been a stronger, albeit still slow, push for a reintroduction of standing areas to give fans that very choice and Aston Villa have long supported that movement.

With basic plans and permissions now in place for proper trials in the Premier League, member clubs have been asked this week to make ‘expressions of interest’ to the Sports Ground Safety Authority to take part in more pilot tests in the 2021/22 campaign. It’ll still be a slow process as ‘expressions’ don’t have to be in until October 6, then there’s the admin so the plan is to offer such trial areas from January 1, 2022.

There will then need to be reviews and legislation would have to be proposed to fully change the law to allow wider spread use of the rail seats, so we’re probably a few years off a total u-turn but it’s progress and it’s been a long road getting here given the SGSA changed their guidance back in 2018 to allow the use of rail seats for trials, but better late than never.

Quoted by the BBC UK sports minister Nigel Huddleston explained.

“We have been clear that we will work with fans and clubs towards introducing safe standing at football grounds providing there was evidence that installing seating with barriers would have a positive impact on crowd safety. With independent research now complete, and capacity crowds back at grounds across the country, now is the right time to make progress.”

Rail seating has already been installed at the grounds of Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United, Tottenham and Wolves in anticipation of this, so they’ll undoubtedly be taking part – Villans will be hoping our application swiftly follows.

For those interested the specific criteria to be met for a successful application includes the following:

Having seats with barriers/independent barriers – which must be in both home and away sections
Fans must be able to sit or stand in the licensed area
Seats cannot be locked in the ‘up’ or ‘down’ position and there must be one seat/space per person
The licensed standing areas must not impact the viewing standards of other fans, including disabled fans
There must be a code of conduct in place for fans in the licensed standing area

The Football Supporters’ Association (FSA) naturally welcomed this move given all their work over the last few decades and safe standing co-ordinator, Pete Daykin, explained.

“There is a tradition of fans standing at games as it increases choice, improves atmospheres and ensures supporter safety when hosted in properly managed and licensed standing areas. It brings to an end a farcical situation in which fans at every ground continue to stand in their thousands – often to the detriment of those who can’t or don’t want to stand behind them – but that clubs can’t officially recognise or tackle in a constructive, proactive way.”

What's Your Choice?

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Seats

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