Barrier seats to be trialled at Old Trafford

Manchester club is given green light to install rail seating

It has been reported that Trafford council has granted permission for Manchester United to trial 1,500 barrier seats at its Old Trafford stadium, allowing fans to stand next season for the first time in over a quarter of a century.

Standing at top-flight games was banned in 1994 as a result of the Taylor report, which was commissioned following the 1989 Hillsborough disaster when 96 Liverpool fans lost their lives.

An application was made by United last year to install barrier seating, which is fronted by a rail for supporters to lean on, and the club has now been given the green light to follow Wolves, who were given permission to trial it last spring.

The West Midlands club took the decision after 97 percent of South Bank season-ticket holders said they were in favour of it, and the plan was approved by the local safety advisory group and the Sports Grounds Safety Authority.

Feedback from fans

The 1,500 new seats will be located in Old Trafford’s J-stand in the north-east quadrant of the stadium, and if the trial proves to be a success the club plans to add further safe standing places.

According to United’s managing director, Richard Arnold, the move followed feedback from fans and had safety in mind. “Our belief is that the introduction of barrier seats will enhance spectator safety in areas of the stadium where – as with other clubs – we have seen examples of persistent standing,” he said.

He added: “Our overwhelming priority is to keep our people safe from the Covid-19 pandemic. It may seem strange to talk about stadium plans at this time, but football and our fans will return when it is safe, and our preparations for that must continue in the background.”

In May 2018, Shrewsbury Town FC became the first club in England and Wales to install rail seats to be used as a safe standing area for 550 fans.

Spending could be curbed

Meanwhile, United’s executive vice-chairman, Ed Woodward, has warned that it may not be “business as usual” for the club come the next transfer window, as spending may be affected by the financial impact of the coronavirus outbreak.

Football was suspended in early March and there is uncertainty about when it will return, and Woodward suggested this would need to be taken into account when assessing what kind of funding Ole Gunnar Solskjær may have to play with to strengthen his squad.

Speaking to a United fans’ forum via a conference call, he said: “Nobody should be under any illusions about the scale of challenge facing everyone in football and it may not be ‘business as usual’ for any clubs, including ourselves, in the transfer market this summer.

“As ever our priority is the success of the team. But we need visibility of the impact across the whole industry, including timings of the transfer window, and the wider financial picture, before we can talk about a return to normality.

“On this basis, I cannot help feeling that speculation around transfers of individual players for hundreds of millions of pounds this summer seems to ignore the realities that face the sport.”

Resilient model

On a more positive note, Woodward said the club’s strong commercial model gave United “greater resilience than most clubs”, and while acknowledging that games may initially be staged behind closed doors, he said the club was eager to see the team return to the field as soon as it was safe to do so.

“We are in constant dialogue with our governing bodies about when and how that will happen and we will continue to engage with this forum to keep fans consulted,” he added.

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