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Safety first as Celtic prepare to take a stand

THERE may be safe standing areas in the SPFL Premiership next season without the need to deploy the bulldozers.

Safe standing areas continue to be popular on the continent
Safe standing areas continue to be popular on the continent

The creation of the new governing body last summer brought about a raft of changes, one of which slipped largely unnoticed under the radar amid chat about play-offs, pyramid systems and a fairer financial distribution model. Gone is the previous requirement for clubs to have 6000-seater arenas to play in the top division, replaced by proof that they can meet the bronze standard in the Scottish Football Association's club licensing manual. That means, among other things, having a minimum of "500 covered places", whether standing or seated. Should Alloa Athletic, for example, make it up to the top division then there is nothing in the regulations that would stop them from continuing to use the terraces at Recreation Park next season.

It remains to be seen, however, whether those already in the Premiership will make the move to provide a similar facility for their own supporters. Scottish football was not bound by the findings of the Taylor Report that brought about the introduction of all-seater stadia for clubs in the top two tiers in England, but followed suit regardless. That meant some clubs going to considerable expense to meet the 10,000-seat requirement that was later watered down to a need for 6000 seated places.

Football grounds became safer but undoubtedly more sterile places as the spontaneity created by fans on their feet gradually diminished. In recent years envious glances have been cast at the standing areas prevalent at clubs on the continent, most notably in Germany's Bundesliga, that offer both a cheaper alternative to seating tickets as well as contributing greatly to a raucuous and colourful atmosphere. Not every part of the Ultras culture is desirable - the recent fad for pyrotechnics is undoubtedly borrowed from European "curvas" - but there is a feeling in many quarters, including Neil Doncaster, the SPFL chief executive, that the reintroduction of terracing in Premiership grounds would be a positive step. The Scottish Premier League relaxed the laws on standing areas in 2011 but no club has yet to take advantage.

Celtic seem the club most likely to embrace such a move, probably, ironically, in Section 111, the area that previously housed the now disbanded Green Brigade group. The club's regular involvement in UEFA competitions means they would need to install German-style rail seats, that fold down to become barriers for domestic games, rather than simply knocking down seats to create terracing, but that is unlikely to be prohibitive.

Although Celtic have yet to put forward detailed plans, campaigners for the introduction of safe standing areas believe there could be one at Parkhead before the end of the year, with a few other Premiership clubs awaiting the outcome before possibly following in their footsteps.

"Having taken the Safe Standing Roadshow [SSR] to Celtic Park three times since 2011 for meetings with a variety of stakeholders, including the police and safety authorities, I am pleased to see that there is growing support for the concept of enhancing the safety and matchday experience of those fans who like to stand, while at the same time ensuring that those who prefer to sit are not inconvenienced," Jon Darch of SSR told Herald Sport.

"I hope that any lingering concerns that some parties may have had have now been allayed and that we will soon see Celtic blazing a pioneering trail in the use of rail seats in the UK."

Celtic, though, will first need to obtain a safety certificate from Glasgow City Council who would seek counsel from the police and other relevant safety groups before giving the go-ahead. The council's movements will also be guided by the UK government's weighty 232-page tome Guide to Safety at Sports Grounds - known as The Green Guide.

"Detailed proposals would have to be presented by the club before any decision on a standing area could be taken," said a spokesman for the council. "Spectator safety would be a key consideration in any decision and all agencies involved in the safety advisory group would have to be satisfied that any safety concerns had been fully resolved."

Such difficulties have not deterred Supporters Direct Scotland, who are preparing a White Paper on the subject, believing the prospect of standing at top-flight matches appeals to a large number of fans.

Not everyone is convinced by the merits, however. St Mirren only moved in to their stadium five years ago and are reluctant to tear it up, believing the idea that standing areas would automatically equate to cheaper tickets does not necessarily stack up. "We've got one of the newest stadiums in Scottish football and one that's fit for purpose," said the chief executive Brian Caldwell.

"Supporters would expect to pay less for standing rather than sitting but the club would have a cost for installing safe-standing areas, and we would likely need more stewards. I can't see us going down that road anytime soon."

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