BY DARREN JOHNSTONE – CAPITAL CITY PRESS
Safe standing campaigner Jon Darch insists Celtic have opened the ‘floodgates’ for a change in the way that supporters watch football across the United Kingdom after announcing plans to install rail seats.
Darch has been at the forefront of the push to reintroduce standing at matches and played a central role in the Hoops’ successful bid to get the green-light from the relevant authorities.
Celtic initially plan to make 2,000 rail seats, which are hugely popular in Germany, available to fans for the start of the 2016/17 season.
And Bristol City supporter Darch, who has taken his safe-standing road show across the entire country, reckons the Scottish champions have now paved the way for clubs north and south of the border to make similar changes to their grounds.
Darch said: “It should be the opening of the floodgates, it should be the breaking of the dam.
“I think I will look back in ten years time and think, ‘why on earth did we not do it earlier?’
“When the rail seats get put in I want to see a very loud, vibrant, colourful, energetic group of fans being the catalyst of the noise around the stadium.
“If they provide us with that I’m sure that will show other clubs around the UK that they want some of that, and they’ll be embracing what (Celtic chief executive) Peter Lawwell referred to as the energetic, youthful fan culture.
“In Scotland, Celtic have done the groundwork, they’ve set a precedent where the Scottish authorities have agreed that rail seating is very safe.
“In England and Wales it’s a different kettle of fish because the Football Spectators Act applies, so there are one or two more hoops and hurdles to overcome.
“I think certainly Celtic going ahead and doing it is going to make it far more difficult for the authorities down here to maintain that safe standing behind rail seats would be unsafe.
“To do so, they would be saying that Glasgow City Council, Police Scotland and the Scottish Government are all bonkers, and I doubt they’ll want to say it.”
Darch admits he was thrilled to see Celtic get the go-ahead after making several visits to Scotland to demonstrate the use of rail seats.
He added: “I first took the roadshow to Celtic Park just over four years ago in May 2011.
“I let them see what rail seats are all about and let them show one or two others.
“I went back for a second meeting a year or so later and I also went back last year to a Football Safety Officers’ Association conference.
“I have been personally involved in it for the last four years and I’m very happy.
“It was protracted negotiations with the relevant authorities but I’m very happy they’ve all got their in the end.”