Sunderland AFC to discuss safe standing at Roker End of Stadium of Light

Sunderland are set to begin exploring the possibility of installing rail seating at the Stadium of Light.

By Phil Smith
Thursday, 04 July, 2019, 16:20
The Stadium of Light's Roker End

‘Safe standing’ remains banned in the top two divisions but is a policy currently being reviewed by the government due to widespread support in the game.

Executive Director Charlie Methven has previously told supporters he is in favour of ‘safe standing’ and in his most recent meeting with supporters group The Red & White Army, he agreed that the club could look into costing ‘rail seating’.

Rail seating at Shrewsbury Town

Standing is allowed in League One for clubs not previously forced to be all-seated, and a number of clubs have terracing, including Accrington Stanley and Burton Albion.

Shrewsbury Town in 2018 became the first club in the league to install rail seating at their ground, with over 500 rail seats put in at Montgomery Waters Meadow.

However, with the practice still outlawed in the Championship and the Premier League, clubs who win promotion have to convert to all-seater stadia.

A three-year period of grace before that conversion happens is allowed.

The government review currently taking place could change that, however, with clubs in higher divisions increasingly keen to explore the possibility.

That could pave the way in the coming years for previously all-seater stadia to introduce ‘safe standing’.

Sunderland are keen to explore their options for that potential eventuality.

As it stands, they are alowed to so in areas where standing is habitual and thus safety will be enhanced. This is subject to strict authority approval.

The minutes from the meeting read: “CM: Because things are moving in a particular direction open the discussions. We’re in a league where we can legally stand, however, we would have to re-address upon promotion.”

He went on: “This [rail seating costs] hasn’t been considered but will be looked into.”

A number of clubs have moved towards exploring rail seating in some capacity in recent times.

Tottenham Hotspur’s new stadium includes a 7,500 strong part of the stadium that could be converted into standing at some stage in the future.

Wolves also explored the possibility earlier this year, installing a rail seating area to show fans and the local safety advisory group how it would work.

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.

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Rail seating of some form is widely used on the continent, particularly in the Bundesliga.

It has also been installed with remarkable success at Celtic, offering the benefit of easily converting to seating for European games, in line with UEFA regulations for continental competitions.

The government review is expected to favour safe seating given the groundswell of support, though even in that event, a change in the law and the widespread introduction of safe standing areas could be some way off yet.

The Football Supporters’ Association have lobbied consistently in favour of safe standing.

David Rose, a Red & White Army representative, told the meeting: “There is no longer a discussion as to whether safe standing is good or not.

“The safety issue surrounding safe standing has been removed but it has now moved into a security issue.

“The FSA continue to lobby on this matter. There have been some advancements in terms of Wolves having a rail seating area, Spurs also have an area, although the law hasn’t changed, people are more accepting.”

He went on to add: “If the club were in a position to put rail seating into the Roker End, there wouldn’t necessarily be anyone pushing against rail seating.”

In the minutes, Methven also told supporters that discussions regarding the potential selling of the Stadium of Light naming rights were ‘on hold’ as investment talks continue. Sunderland have held discussions with numerous parties over the summer.

A consortium led by real estate businessman Mark Campbell was identified as a preferred bidder, but there remain a numbe of issues to be resolved and an imminent resolution is not expected.

The Red and White Army group was launched to improve communication between the club and supporters.

On it’s website, it says: “The Red and White Army (RAWA) is a fully democratic, inclusive and independent supporters group which aims to give a voice to Sunderland fans. Its goal is to inform, liaise with and communicate with the club to maintain fan relationships with Sunderland AFC, to the benefit of all supporters. We work alongside other supporter groups locally and nationally.”

“RAWA is also commited to improving the local community and partner with Sunderland Foodbanks, The Foundation of Light and other local initiatives to raise awareness of issues.

“All officers are demcratically elected by our members. We ensure that we are as representative as any group can be by co opting individuals from a wide range of supporters to give a voice for everyone from families to fanzines.

​”We meet regularly with decision makers at SAFC to cover issues that matter to Sundeland fans and report back to supporters. Through RAWA the fanbase decide the agenda for each meeting as we canvass supporters through social media and at our own meetings.

​”We aim to be a crictical friend of the club and to place the supporters at the centre of decisions on how the club is ran and in particular anything that impacts on the supporter experience.

“We are interested in everthing from the price of a pie and the atmosphere to the financial health and governance of SAFC. Owners and players come and go but the fans are constant.”

You can find out more and join the group here.