Tuesday’s confirmation from the club that away supporters coming to the Stadium of Light will continue to be placed in the North Stand Upper has had lots of attention already, but a couple of lines towards the end of the story appears to have slipped under the radar somewhat.
Sunderland AFC announced that they are also looking to introduce rail seating at the ground prior to the 2024-25 season – and that is an idea that certainly warrants more attention.
The statement said:
We are also in regular dialogue with the Sports Grounds Safety Authority, who are currently assessing a proposal from the Club to introduce railed seating in the Roker End and North Stand Upper ahead of the 2024-2025 Season to address persistent standing.
I have to admit that I have not used any of the new style safe standing options myself yet, but the feedback from clubs such as Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur, who have already rolled this out, has been largely positive.
My own experience is a little more old school – I was a regular on traditional terracing back in the day, but having enjoyed fairly recent chances at Accrington Stanley and Hartlepool United to retrace my steps I was reminded of just how good it was.
Standing, admittedly at older grounds, still felt less restrictive, rawer even, and made for more of an atmosphere amongst the travelling red and white army.
If that sense can be recaptured with more modern provisions then, it would be a huge boost to the matchday experience, even though it would not be something I would be looking to partake in at this stage.
This is purely down to the fact that I attend home games with young family for whom seats are the only viable option right now, but that too highlights another reason why rail seating may work – it gives a different option to those that do currently wish to stand.
I’ve spoken before about behaviour in the family zone where I sit and have been at several away fixtures where persistent standing has meant that some folk have had their view of the action blocked. Having clearer definitions will therefore mean less tension between different portions of the supporter base and allow people to get what they want from a trip to see Sunderland. Some people either prefer or need to sit for various reasons, and if different choices are available, it means more of us are going to be catered for.
From what I gather, rail sections offer clubs a bit more flexibility than terracing, meaning Sunderland would be able to continue to meet the criteria for different competitions and still be able to host other events at the stadium. Assuming installation and maintenance costs are not prohibitive it could also lead to a reduction of some ticket prices and that too would be welcome – not that SAFC’s current structure is that bad anyway.
The combination of affordable entry and a bit more freedom however might still be appealing to those that find all-seater venues too sanitised.
The club has advised that it is in discussion with the Sports Ground Safety Authority about the proposal, and that at present they are looking to bring rail seating into the Roker End as well as the current away section.
No further details have been shared yet, but on a personal level I hope that any moves would be made in such a way that would enable fans to still go between the concourses before kick-off and half time.
I know migration has been put forward as one of the reasons for overcrowding and anti-social behaviour in parts of the Roker at the moment, but I’ve always appreciated being able to nip round to see my mate for a quick catch up and think it would be a shame for those that behave properly to no longer have that ability.
It is admittedly a small thing, but I do like that about match days and would prefer it if suitable access arrangements could be implemented.
It is by no mean a deal breaker for me mind, and as long as the overall package is enhanced it should have a huge impact. There are of course hurdles – I have heard it suggested in the past that as the ground was built when all seaters were compulsory the rake may make some ideas unfeasible, but even by simply looking into it we are getting another indication that the current leadership at SAFC are at least willing to try and improve on certain things and invest in areas where they feel it would be beneficial.
It may get lost amidst the different arguments about whether visiting fans should stay put, but there is an opportunity here perhaps to implement one of the biggest changes in our fan culture since the Stadium of Light was opened.
The advantages to that would be severalfold, and as with anything that has the potential to improve supporter satisfaction, I am inclined to stand and applaud it.