English Soccer News

Wolves planning to install ‘safe standing’ rail seats at Molineux

The new seats will be installed in the Sir Jack Hayward stand at Wolves’ Molineux stadium

Wolves plan to install rail seats at Molineux this summer so that fans who refuse to sit can stay safe.

Standing at grounds in the top two tiers of English football is illegal but new guidance from safety chiefs allows clubs to install seats with barriers if strict conditions are met.

Now Wolves hope to take advantage of the new guidelines in their bid to tackle persistent standing.

“This is not about safe standing,” said managing director Laurie Dalrymple.

He told BBC Sport he was not expecting a change in legislation “any time in the near future” but added: “This is a very strong middle ground.

“I don’t believe the evidence supports a view that standing in football grounds is something that is inherently dangerous.

“But I am pleased this revision to the guidelines allows us to do something that permits the fans to be in the stadium and, should they wish to stand, are doing so in a safe environment.”

Standing in the top two tiers was outlawed following recommendations made in the Taylor Report into the 1989 Hillsborough disaster, in which 96 Liverpool fans lost their lives.

In recent seasons, campaigners have called for standing to be allowed in grounds once again. Rail seating has been developed to provide seats which can also be converted to standing areas.

Last year, new guidance from the Sports Ground Safety Authority (SGSA), the body in charge of ground safety, opened the door to the use of rail seats.

Its Green Guide document, used by all stadium managers, referred to ‘seats incorporating barriers’, which the SGSA later confirmed meant that they could be installed and still meet the government’s all-seater policy, provided certain strict conditions were met.

And Dalrymple believes such arrangements make a safer alternative to traditional seats in areas of the ground where fans still insist on standing up.

Wolves have a particular problem in their South Bank section – officially known as the Sir Jack Hayward stand.

In a recent survey of season-ticket holders in that part of the ground, 97% of respondents said they were in favour of the introduction of seats with barriers.

And as the existing seats in that area of the ground needed replacing, the club will take advantage of the change in official safety advice to install rail seats.

“This is the perfect opportunity for us to meet all of the expectations of the safety guidelines and give our fans what they want,” Dalrymple said.

“We have had persistent problems in that area of the ground from fans who wish to stand and we have made it clear on occasions in the past that if there was an opportunity to pilot a scheme we would want to be at the forefront.

“But this is not about safe standing and I have no doubt other football clubs will follow behind us.”

Both Wolves and the SGSA are stressing that the move is not a back-door way to introduce standing into the Premier League.

An SGSA spokesman told BBC Sport: “The focus of the SGSA is the safety and enjoyment of fans.

“Wolverhampton Wanderers are using the opportunity provided by their ongoing stadium improvements to tackle the safety risks associated with persistent standing by introducing seats incorporating barriers.

“We will be working with the club to ensure that the proposed seating arrangements meet the technical specifications within our guidance.

“The club will remain subject to the government’s all-seater policy and we will continue to closely monitor the ground and particularly any new seats incorporating barriers to assess compliance with the licence condition.”

In June 2018, then Sports Minister Tracey Crouch commissioned an official review into safe standing at football grounds after a petition calling for its introduction was signed by 112,000 people.

In January, Crouch’s successor Mims Davies said she thought all-seater stadiums was still the safest option but is waiting for further information before reaching a definitive conclusion.

Major plans for Molineux

The introduction of rail seats marks the start of what, over the next few years, will be a major redevelopment of Molineux.

Unlike Tottenham did, Wolves cannot move out of the current home while work is taking place, so Dalrymple says redevelopment, which he hopes will begin in ‘one to two years’, will have to be done in over “a very staggered, strategic period of time”.

Wolves finished 13th in the Premier League attendance chart in 2018-19, with an average of 31,030, up from 28,298 from their title-winning campaign in the Championship.

Dalrymple says the club have plans to raise their capacity to between 37,000 and 38,000 “in the short term”.

But with more than 6,000 on their waiting list for season tickets, Wolves have not ruled out going beyond 40,000.

Dalrymple said: “I am comfortable we could build a stadium to around the mid-40,000s, potentially a bit higher than that.

“Assuming we continue with our on-field aspirations and how we are delivering in that aspect, we would have a football club that could deliver those capacities.”

This season has been an undoubted success for Wolves.

Their squad was bolstered by the arrival of two Portuguese European Championship winners in Joao Moutinho and Rui Patricio.

During the campaign they also signed two of their most popular loan players on a permanent basis, paying Atletico Madrid £15m for full-back Jonny Castro and a club record £30m to Benfica for top scorer Raul Jimenez.

Jimenez was also responsible for bringing fellow Mexican and WWE star Sin Cara to Molineux for the final home game of the season against Fulham, opening the club up to another new audience.

The disappointment at losing a two-goal lead and the FA Cup semi-final to Watford was tempered by a seventh-place finish, the club’s highest since 1980, and the knowledge if Manchester City become the first club to complete a domestic Treble at Wembley on 18 May, Wolves will have a place in the Europa League qualifying rounds.

Dalrymple said: “Our objective is to take this football club and immerse it into the top six of the Premier League. It is definitely achievable, otherwise, why try?

“We have had such a stellar year, it does potentially place another level of expectation on us to grow. To a degree we are comfortable with that.

“Penetrating that top six is not going to be easy. There is still a big divide between those elite clubs and the rest in terms of commerciality and ability but we believe we have the strategy, investment potential, know-how and desire to bridge that gap and to get into that group as quickly as we can.”

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