The club will investigate the possibility of safe standing.
Brighton & Hove Albion today confirmed that the club has begun to look at the possibility of installing limited safe standing at the Amex, and fans will have an opportunity to have their say - along with other key groups - in the coming weeks on what has long been an emotive subject for football supporters.
The EFL first confirmed they were open to discussions on the topic in February 2014; and Albion's move follows The Football Association's confirmation that it will soon commence discussions with the government about the possibility of a change in legislation, with The FA's chairman Greg Clarke a keen advocate of safe standing - dating back to his time as EFL chairman.
Albion chief executive Paul Barber, who has already made fact-finding missions to both Borussia Dortmund and Celtic Park during the past 12 months, says the club is now ready and keen to explore the possibility - but it's important for fans to remember that the club can only fully consider such a move if the government changes legislation.
Albion will evaluate the possibility of introducing safe standing to a small section of the Amex based on several factors. Aside from a change to legislation, and securing support from its Safety Advisory Group, the club will also need to look at the cost of installation, where it might be feasible inside the stadium, the potential impact on crowd behaviour and atmosphere, and a range of other commercial considerations.
Barber said, "The Amex is currently one of the best and most modern all-seater stadia in Europe with an outstanding record for crowd behaviour and safety. Safe standing has not been high on our agenda simply because of the government legislation ruling against it, but there now appears to be more of an appetite for change and, if this proves to be the case, we want to fully understand the implications for our club and stadium as early as possible.
"At our most recent football club board meeting I presented to the club's chairman and directors some initial background, based on my own personal visit to Dortmund for a match and a very informative meeting at Celtic with senior members of their operations team, architects, engineers and safety experts a couple of weeks ago.
"Having personally experienced rail seating for a game at Borussia Dortmund, it is a very different experience to the terracing of old, but it does offer a safe alternative to those who wish to stand at football. Celtic's system is slightly different - it's one standing place replacing one seat - but it's something we want to look at further and, as a progressive club which puts the match day experience very high on our list of priorities for fans, we want to be well prepared for any changes which may come. An important part of this preparation and process is that we want to hear what our fans think.
"In terms of setting expectations, it's already clear from our initial research that the introduction of safe standing to any area of our stadium would not increase the capacity of the Amex and it would not allow us to reduce ticket prices in any standing area. From an economic point of view, the capital cost of a safe standing installation is substantial, and particularly so in a new stadium which already has seen considerable investment in state of the art, very comfortable, seating. How we might fund such a project is one of the very important considerations we must debate."
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WHAT IS SAFE STANDING?
Rail seating is a combination which can be used as a seated or standing area, as decided by the club or according to competition rules (for example, UEFA requires seating in place for all spectators for its competitions). This is the design which is most often referred to as safe standing. It's the design that is used successfully by clubs in Germany, Austria, Sweden and now, most recently, at Celtic.
There is a safety barrier and a seat on every row. The seats are locked into an upright position for games for which standing is permitted and supporters stand between the barriers in the same space given to one seat.
The FA chairman Greg Clarke is a supporter of safe standing and opened early talks with the government while chairman of the Football League but they were parked during the Hillsborough inquests, which concluded that poor policing – and not standing – was to blame for the deaths of 96 Liverpool fans in Britain’s worst sporting disaster.
He recently revealed he has lobbied government for the change, saying in an interview for the Telegraph, "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? We need to find a way over time to convince the government there won’t be public order issues, it will be safe, it will be controllable."
WHAT HAPPENS NOW?
Tasked with leading this feasibility study, Albion's safety officer Adrian Morris said, "We have already had an initial discussion with the chairperson of the club's Safety Advisory Group, with further, more detailed, dialogue planned for October.”
The club will begin to gather opinion and feedback from those on the Safety Advisory Group, our stadium designers and architects, engineers who have experience of installing rail seating and the various other interested parties - including the club's supporters, and supporters' groups.
Morris added, “It's impossible for the club to move forward, even if the economics worked and the local authority were supportive, until the government reaches a decision on whether it will change legislation.
“Even to reach a decision on whether it is a feasible option at the Amex won't happen quickly, neither will changes in government legislation, but one thing which will undoubtedly help any club who might wish to install safe standing in the future will be an exemplary safety record.
“We continue to ask that our fans fully comply with stewards' instructions on the issue of standing as this will help us to show the authorities that our club is well placed to take advantage of any change in legislation if we are financially able to do so. The rail seat system is one supported by the Football Supporters Federation and Supporters Direct, so initially the club's research will be based on exploring this system, as one which is considered to offer safe standing in a comfortable environment and supported by The FA.”
Interested supporters who wish to take part in the dialogue will be invited to contact the club to claim a place at one of the consultation meetings.
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