Ed Woodward endured a torrid time this summer, his lack of experience in the transfer window transforming him into a pantomime villain for United fans, who criticised Woodward’s choice to prioritise commercial deals over signing players.
However, the much maligned club’s chief executive could regain some respect among the supporters after he agreed to investigate the viability of reintroducing standing areas at Old Trafford, as United looked set to back the Football Supporters Federation’s campaign for safe standing inside football grounds across Britain.
The Independent reports that Woodward agreed to explore the possibility of reintroducing standing areas at Old Trafford at a recent fans’ forum, when the proposal was put to him and United will now examine the logistic problems and financial costs of altering the current Old Trafford configuration to allow fans to stand.
The question regarding standing areas was put to Woodward last month as supporters discussed different options to improve the tragic Old Trafford atmosphere, with the singing section – which will see away fans moved to East Upper, and around 2,000 United fans shifted to the away section – set to be trialled against Real Sociedad next week.
Fans already stand in parts of the Stretford End and K-Stand, but the introduction of designated standing areas would force United to reconsider a couple of key points.
The gangways leading from the seating areas to the ground’s exits are thought to be too narrow to accommodate the increasing number of fans that would stand in a particular area, the reason upon which United have always based their refusal to even consider the reintroduction of standing areas, claiming that Old Trafford is not adequately equipped to host standing sections.
However, with the likes of Aston Villa, Cardiff, Sunderland, Crystal Palace, Swansea and Hull giving their support to the FSF’s campaign, United’s decision could be a landmark moment for the campaigners, who desperately need as many high profile clubs on board as possible if they’re to achieve tangible results.
Before we all start dreaming of the Stretford End and the Scoreboard Paddock returning in all their pomp, however, it’s worth noting that the process leading to the reintroduction in football grounds is a very long and tortuous road, as new legislation is needed to overrule the 1989 Football Spectators Act, which decreed that stadiums in the two top divisions must be all-seater.
With the government still coming to terms with the disgraceful and shameful findings over the Hillsborough tragedy, an imminent change is hard to fathom, particularly as inquiries into the 1989 disaster remain ongoing.
However, the report released last year clearly laid the blame for the death of 96 Liverpool fans at the authorities’ door and it showed standing had virtually nothing to do with the fatal crush, in the wake of which Margaret Thatcher seized the opportunity to clamp down on some of her worst enemies – working class football fans.
Furthermore, neither United nor any other Premier League team would have to increase capacity or radically change their grounds if they decided to follow the German model, which has seen the introduction of rail seats, which can be folded back for Premier League and domestic cup matches, thus creating one standing space per seat, and sold as seats for European matches, as UEFA regulations are different in that respect.
The Manchester United Supporters’ Trust have been campaigning for the introduction of said device, which has seen standing areas being reintroduced in German grounds.
United will have to shoulder the cost of introducing rail seats, but the cost would undoubtedly be cheaper than a drastic overhaul of the ground.
At long last, there might be a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel.
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