What Newcastle United's safe standing plan means for St James's Park's capacity

Newcastle United are set to consult fans over the introduction of safe standing at St James’s Park.

Tuesday, 12th July 2022, 10:37 am

It was announced last week that Premier League and Championship clubs wishing to introduce licensed safe standing could do so from the start of the 2022/23 season following a successful pilot scheme.

Tottenham Hotspur, Chelsea, Manchester United, Manchester City and Cardiff City all trialled rail seating last season.

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Newcastle United will install 600 rail seats this summer.

Newcastle will not make any changes to the home areas for the coming campaign – and supporters will not yet be permitted to stand in any section – but the club is set to install 600 rail seats at the front of the away section as a “preparatory measure”.

The first rail seats could be installed in a home area as early as next year, though there is not a fixed timetable. There will be no change to St James’s Park’s 52,305-seat capacity.

United plan to discuss safe standing with supporter groups over the coming months.

Dave Gregory, the club’s head of safety and security, said: “What happened was, about 12 months ago, the Sports Ground Safety Authority (SGSA), embarked on a pilot with five clubs to see whether standing was safe in stadiums by introducing rail seating.

Fans and spectators sit in the rail seating section, installed for a trial of safe-standing at Chelsea's Stamford Bridge.

“The pilot has been evaluated. It’s been deemed to be successful and safe, so last week, the SGSA has said we can all apply for licensed safe standing.

"That being the case, we were already working with the SGSA – who were aware how successfully the pilot was going – and we were encouraged to start installing in the away section, only because it’s the steepest part of the stadium, and has an inherent greater risk because of that.

“We’ve agreed that we’ll put approximately 600 seats on the balcony of the away section as a preparatory measure. The survey’s been done, the installers have done the site visit.

“We’re hoping that somewhere towards the start of the season we’ll have 600 rail seats on the balcony of the away section.”

United will now attempt to work out how many fans want to stand – and where best to locate a safe standing area.

“Now we can apply for that section, we need to consider how that’s going to be best placed in our home section,” said Gregory. “The matter’s not that straightforward – it needs a lot of consultation with the fanbase.

"Where’s the best place to put it? Is it the Leasze Stand? The East Stand? The Gallowgate? Everybody will have an opinion on that.

"And then, when we do, we’ve got to also consider that we’ve got to start installing from the rear to the front to make it work, because once somebody’s standing from the front, the whole of that section will then be standing.

“That consultation needs to take place. We need to understand how many of our fans want to stand for the whole game. We don’t have that data at this stage. That consultation needs to go out, and that will determined the number of seats, or the section, that we’ll consider installing in.

"Once we get that in, obviously we will need some seat moves – and that causes it’s own problems as well.

"People will have been coming to the stadium for 20, 30 or 40 years, and use the same seat, and will be reluctant to move. It needs a lot of consideration. I know part of the fanbase wants this to go forward very quickly, but we need to get it right.”

There will be no changes to home areas this season.

“We’ve discounted this season,” said Gregory. “The season-tickets have already gone out. That consultation will have to take the time that it takes.

"We’ll have to see how long that takes and try to keep the fanbase as happy as we can and improve the fan experience for those that want to stand – and also for those that don’t, because they won’t have people standing up in front of them.”

Gregory added: “I’d like to emphasise that supporters will still not be permitted to stand at this time, but the addition of rail seating will add an enhanced safety provision in an elevated part of the stadium.

“We’re committed to making St James’s Park as safe as possible for everyone, and we look forward to working with our supporters to identify an area for fans who may wish to stand in future.”

Meanwhile, the Football Supporters’ Association (FSA) welcomed last week’s announcement. Chief executive Kevin Miles said: "Match-going supporters know the benefits of safe standing are enormous, with better atmospheres and more choice for fans, whether they prefer to sit or stand.

"The FSA has always made the case that football clubs should be able to talk to their fanbase and work together to find the ideal mix of seating and standing at every club.

"That’s now possible and it’s no surprise at all that more clubs are already looking to join last season’s early adopters and install their own safe standing areas."

Speaking last week, SGSA chief executive Martyn Henderson OBE said: "We welcome the controlled return of standing for the modern era, which has been made possible by a very close collaboration with the Government.

"This is an historic moment for football – and, most importantly, for the fans who have campaigned for this change and will be safer as a result of today’s decision."