The British government’s decision to reject Premier League strugglers West Browmwich Albion’s proposal to have a safe standing area is “surprising” and “disappointing” said a club director.
West Brom staff had visited both Scottish champions Celtic and German outfit Hoffenheim who both have safe standing areas – ‘rail seats’, which can be locked in an upright position with safety barriers separating each row.
West Brom’s plan had been to install 3,600 rail seats in one end of the Hawthorns ground.
However, British Sports minister Tracey Crouch says there are no plans to change the all-seater policy at football stadiums which was brought in as a result of the 1989 Hillsborough disaster, which claimed the lives of 96 Liverpool fans.
West Brom’s director of operations Mark Miles, who has led the proposal, described the decision as “surprising” and “disappointing”.
“I think the minister has taken a short-sighted view and is preventing the club from creating a safer environment for supporters,” he said.
“The all-seater policy was developed over 25 years ago and football is a very different place now.”
Miles said the safe standing deployed by Celtic and Hoffenheim had worked well.
“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,” he said.
“We were prepared to run a pilot which would enable the club to gather data and feedback to further inform us in the issue of crowd safety.
“But I have become convinced that rail seating would enhance safety. The club is extremely disappointed with this decision and we have written back requesting a review.”
The thorny issue of standing areas appeared to get a boost last year when Liverpool fans overwhelmingly supported it.
In a week-long poll run by the club’s biggest independent supporters’ group Spirit of Shankly, 88 per cent of the nearly 18,000 fans who took part voted in favour of rail seating.