Manchester United are to trial safe standing at Old Trafford.
In a historic move, the club will install 1,500 rail seats early next year as part of an initial trial.
United have been well aware of fan support for safe standing for some time and carried out a ‘detailed and comprehensive study’ into the matter last year.
Manchester United have been given the green light to trial safe standing at Old Trafford
The Premier League giants will install 1,500 rail seats (pictured) to be used in the new year
Explainer on rail seats
Rail seats are essentially seats with built-in safety barriers to allow safe standing.
Each metal seat is incorporated within a robust metal frame that forms a waist-high rail for the spectators in the row behind. These seat frames are installed on a permanent basis with the same spacing as standard seats. The frames interlock to form a continuous high-strength rail along the full length of each row.
The seats can be locked to allow for standing fans between rows of the waist-high rails and be unlocked to convert the area to all-seater configuration.
They are widely used across Europe with almost half of clubs in the Bundesliga using rail seats, including Borussia Dortmund.
In the Premier Division, all-seater stadiums have been compulsory since the start of the 1994-95 season as a result of the Taylor Report, which gave recommendations to improve stadium safety after the Hillsborough disaster.
In July 2016, Celtic formally unveiled their new 2,600 capacity rail seating area within Celtic Park, becoming the first British club to do so.
They approached the relevant authorities for permission and have now been given the green light.
They believe the rail seats, which allow people to stand against a barrier, will ‘enhance spectator safety’ in areas where there is persistent standing.
As such, the 1,500 new seats will be added to the J Stand area of the ground, which has traditionally experienced such issues.
A recent change to the stadium safety guide means clubs can now install seats incorporating safety barriers in their grounds.
However, there is still a reluctance to use the term ‘safe standing’ among the authorities.
Standing has been banned in the top two tiers of English football since the Taylor Report, carried out following the Hillsborough disaster of 1989.
United say they are ‘delighted’ with the development. However, the new seats are not likely to be used until Old Trafford returns to its maximum capacity.
Stadiums in England are currently subject to heavily restricted crowd capacity under the Government’s Covid-19 prevention measures.
The club also say they are not aware of any updates as to when the Government may take forward their manifesto commitment to introduce safe standing.
United have also defended the controversial share dividend payments made to their owners, the Glazer family.
In October — despite a substantial drop to revenue due to the Covid-19 pandemic and last season’s absence from the Champions League — close to £20 million was paid out to the Americans. At a fans’ forum, the issue was raised and a club spokesperson responded by pointing out that payment of dividends was ‘standard practice for listed companies around the world and falls within our normal course of business’.
Standing has been banned in the top two tiers of English football since the Taylor Report, carried out following the Hillsborough Disaster of 1989
The spokesperson added: ‘By providing a return on investment and encouraging capital discipline, dividends contribute to the long-term health and sustainability of the club.’
It was also pointed out that season ticket prices at United have been frozen for the last nine years.
Meanwhile, as exclusively revealed by Sportsmail, fans will be asked to avoid excessive singing and shouting and to wear face coverings at all times in a bid to help Premier League clubs stage larger-scale test events in future.
Top-flight clubs have signed off on new protocols — some of which go beyond Government mandates — ahead of up to 2,000 fans returning to matches this weekend.
Celtic became first British club to use rail sets when they unveiled them at Celtic Park in 2016