Wolves have announced a plan to become the first club in the United Kingdom to install rail seats in an entire stand at their ground.
The seats will be fitted in Molineux’s Sir Jack Hayward Stand, making it ready to be operated in future as a safe-standing area.
Speaking to Press Association Sport, safe-standing campaigner Jon Darch said: “Managing director Laurie Dalrymple and head of operations Steve Sutton deserve huge credit for deciding to put in rail seats to enhance spectator safety on the south bank.
“Having recently seen the seats of this type at Spurs, I look forward to seeing what they will look like at Molineux.”
Dalrymple made the announcement at the Premier League club’s end-of-season dinner on Tuesday.
He said: “After consultation with South Bank season ticket holders and discussions at fans’ parliament, we are delighted to be in a position to confirm that barrier seating will be installed at Molineux this summer.
“In April, we sent all supporters who have a season ticket in the South Bank a survey asking them a number of questions about their match day habits, including whether or not they would be in favour of barrier seating in the stand. An overwhelming majority of 97 per cent told us they would be in favour of the change.”
As well as the rail seats in the Sir Jack Hayward Stand, Wolves added that all seats in the Stan Cullis quadrant would be fitted with an independent barrier, emphasising that both options would fully comply with safety regulations.
The club said they had decided to undertake the work this summer, in time for the start of next season, because some of the seats in the South Bank were “coming to the end of their life cycle” and “to mitigate the safety risks of persistent standing”.
Dalrymple added: “For some time, we have been working very closely with the Sports Ground Safety Authority and our Safety Advisory Group to evaluate our options, and the results of this survey meant we were happy to move forwards with the work this summer, with no negative implications to the capacity of either stand.
“It is important to stress that these will not be safe-standing areas, and we will continue to have a management plan in place to ensure compliance with the government’s all-seater policy.
“The Sports Ground Safety Authority will be closely monitoring Molineux and particularly any new seating arrangements to ensure our continued compliance with the licence conditions.
“Of course, Tottenham Hotspur’s new stadium was built with a similar solution already installed, but Wolves will become the first club to install rail seating in an existing stadium, and I think that is something we should be very proud of.”
Wolves’ announcement comes 13 months after former sports minister Tracey Crouch blocked West Brom’s application to trial a safe-standing section at The Hawthorns.
Much has changed since then, though, with Crouch bowing to pressure from clubs and supporters to review the all-seater requirement for grounds in English football’s top two divisions last summer.
She then quit her post last November in protest over a delay on cutting the maximum stake that can be gambled on fixed odds betting terminals, but her successor Mims Davies has since commissioned two further reviews into how legal standing areas can be reintroduced to the Premier League and Championship for the first time since the 1989 Hillsborough disaster.
In the meantime, Spurs have opened their new stadium with a section of seats that can easily be converted into a standing area and several clubs, including Crystal Palace, Everton and Manchester City, have consulted their fans on installing rail seats or some other safe-standing solution at their grounds.
In fact, Wolves fitted three different options in an unused block of the Billy Wright Stand earlier this year to demonstrate the choices on the market.
Scottish champions Celtic currently have the largest section of rail seats in the UK, with 2,900 of the Bundesliga-style seats in Celtic Park’s north-east corner, while Shrewsbury installed about 500 of them at the New Meadow last year.
Neither of those two clubs, however, are subject to the all-seater rule, so the move to rail seats was relatively straightforward.
Wolves, on the other hand, would have to continue to ask supporters to use the seats until the post-Hillsborough regulations are formally revised.
Molineux’s current capacity is 32,000, but the club’s Chinese owners have plans to increase that to 50,000 by redeveloping the three oldest sides of the ground in the coming years.
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