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Crowd at Stamford Bridge

Safe standing beckons for European champions Chelsea

The installation of railed seating has begun at Stamford Bridge, home to newly crowned European conquerors Chelsea.

The club announced in April that railed seating would be fitted in the Matthew Harding and Shed End stands, located behind both goals, ready for the 2021-22 season in August.

Although all-seater stadiums still remain compulsory under existing rulings, Chelsea have joined several top flight clubs, including defeated Champions League finalists Manchester City, in preparing for any legislation changes.

Pictures emerged this week of stripped seating in the Shed Lower, a precursor to changes that will eventually see stadium capacity lowered by just over 500 to around 41,300.

Rail seating offers a waist-high metal frame that fans stand behind, interlocking along the row to form one continuous rail.

In cases where such seating is used in Europe, such as Borussia Dortmund in Germany, the seats can be locked in place to comply with UEFA competition rulings and turn the area into a fully-seated section.

Several campaigns have been run over the last decade to advocate for the introduction of safe standing in the English top flight, with Celtic becoming the first Scottish side to introduce rail seating in 2016.

In the wake of the Hillsborough disaster, the Football Spectators Act of 1989 ordered safety stewards to ensure fans remained seated, with many ground regulations detailing persistent standing as an offence.

But campaigns such as the EFL’s ‘Stand up for Choice’ survey have reflected a growing sentiment among many groups that safe standing should be considered in the future, with 94% of respondents supporting the choice to sit or stand at games.

Chelsea have said that affected season ticket holders will be able to request transfers to a seating-only area of the ground should they wish, but the prospect of safe standing has been greeted with positivity among many in the fanbase.

Mark Bantock, a season ticket holder since 2004, said: “On a personal level, yes I would welcome railed seating because I would much prefer to stand than sit at football.

“Whilst football is a theatre of sorts, it’s not a theatre where you sit down and appreciate fine art and acting. It’s a theatre where you can express your emotions and feelings, and to do that it’s much better to be standing then sitting.”

A statement from the Chelsea Supporters Trust (CST) read: “The introduction of rail seating is significant progress. The CST has campaigned tirelessly for the introduction of Safe Standing.

“To clarify, this is ‘Rail Seating’ and constant standing is still prohibited in UK football grounds, however, the new investment will ensure that supporters are safe at Stamford Bridge in moments of excitement and is a significant step in the right direction.”

The euphoria of a second Champions League title was swiftly followed by a contract extension for head coach Thomas Tuchel, a just reward for a stunning impact since his arrival in January.

Featured image credit: Ben Sutherland via Creative Commons License https://www.flickr.com/photos/bensutherland/6996505619

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