West Bromwich Albion’s hopes of introducing a safe-standing section at The Hawthorns have been rejected by the UK Government.
The Premier League side had offered to run a pilot scheme in the Smethwick End for both home and away fans and made a formal application in October 2017 to install the section this summer in readiness for the 2018/19 campaign.
But Tracey Crouch MP, the Minister for Sport, has ruled out the idea confirming there are no plans to change the all-seater policy at football stadia.
The decision has been described as both “surprising” and “disappointing” by the man who has led Albion’s initiative, director of operations Mark Miles, who has written back to the Sports Grounds Safety Authority urging a review.
After lengthy research into the safe-standing option, Miles had proposed to install “rail-seating” across the Smethwick in the belief that it would be safer for fans in a section of the stadium where persistent standing is a problem.
He took in visits to Celtic Park and the Bundesliga club TSG 1899 Hoffenheim, where the same system is used successfully, and received encouragement from across the football industry to pursue the proposal. He said:
I find the decision from the Minister of Sport both surprising and disappointing. It will certainly be disappointing for many, many supporters I have spoken to who were in favour of what we were proposing.
It has also been a regular topic of discussion at our Albion Assembly meetings where the members support has been clear.
He said the Albion’s proposal did not seek to introduce additional standing at The Hawthorns but to manage that which was already taking place. He added: ”
I think the Minister has taken a short-sighted view and is preventing the club from creating a safer environment for supporters. The all-seater policy was developed over 25 years ago and football is a very different place now.
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. 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.