Manchester United have confirmed that they have been granted permission for the installation of 1,500 barrier seats in the north-east quadrant at Old Trafford. In practice, that means that from next season United will become the second Premier League club to trial a ‘safe standing’ area at their stadium. Wolverhampton Wanderers installed such seating at Molineux last summer.
United’s managing director, Richard Arnold, commented:
“Our belief is that the introduction of barrier seats will enhance spectator safety in areas of the stadium where—as with other clubs—we have seen examples of persistent standing. It also allows us to future-proof the stadium in the event of any changes to the current all-seater stadium policy. If the trial is successful, we may consider further implementation of barrier seating in other parts of the stadium.”
Barrier seating involves each row being separated out by a barrier on which fans can lean while stood up. It is not expressly referred to as ‘safe standing’, which has been a controversial topic ever since standing at top-flight matches was banned in 1994 after an investigation into the Hillsborough disaster. In practice, however, it is expected the area will become a de facto standing zone at Old Trafford. If the trial is successful, United will look to install barrier seats in other parts of the ground.
The use of barrier or rail seating has been permitted in Premier League matches since 2018, though their use is commonplace elsewhere in Europe. North of the border, Celtic installed a 2,600 capacity rail seating area in 2016, and some of Germany’s biggest clubs have been using such a system for longer. Unlike England, German legislation permits standing at top-flight matches. One of the great advantages of rail seating is its flexibility: nominal standing zones can be quickly reconfigured as all-seater for continental competitions in which standing remains banned.