Robin Buchanan, Celtic Park's General Manager, was instrumental in introducing the safe standing area to their ground. Here he discusses with Stadium Business the benefits of safe standing, and praises Ferco's dual-use RailSeat as being key to improving the stadium atmosphere while also keeping fans safe at all times.
Safe Standing at Celtic Park
My name is Robin Buchanan, Stadium General manager at Celtic Park, Glasgow, where we've got rail seating – safe standing is another title for it. Ten years ago we were asked by our local authority to come up with a solution for fans standing in seated areas which is seen to be dangerous – lots of stewarding initiatives were put forward, but basically trying to tell thousands of people to sit down is an impossible thing to do. So, we looked at various options around that were available to us and the rail seating option seemed to be the best one, and the best fitting for Celtic Park. It was dead set on a safety angle, ensuring that a barrier was in front and behind each person, therefore when an individual is standing up, they can't fall forward, like they could in a seat.
Where Has This Been Implemented in the Stadium?
This will all depend on the stadium you've got – the rake of the floor of the stadium is quite important, and you'll have to design the rail seating around each stadium. If you're building a brand-new stadium it is very easy to implement, as it is basically one seat for one rail seat, and therefore exactly the same. At Celtic Park we had to put some extra barriers in either side, just to segregate the area and avoid migration but other than that it was very simple to put in, it's basically taking one seat out and putting another one back in again.
Is It Possible to Extend This Throughout Celtic Park?
We have a waiting list of a couple of thousand fans who are trying to get into the area, however the area we designed for the rail seating, was a specific corner, this avoided changing some of the site lines in the existing seats. Therefore, if we were expanded, we'd have to take out another corner or move further around which would be a big section behind the goal at Celtic Park. So, perhaps we'd look at another corner, and even in the future, potentially in the away section as well, to make the whole new part of the away section standing, giving the fans the choice to stand or to sit as well if they wish.
Are There Other Benefits Compared with Fixed Plastic Seating?
Well I don't think you can ever put a cost on safety and that was our main reason for putting in the rail seating. If you do want to put a cost on it – these seats are robust, they are metal and can take a lot of damage, a lot of wear and tear from fans, where plastic seats are smashed quite regularly, often flung around the place by fans and can be melted or kicked apart, the metal ones are very robust and can stand the test of time.
What Are the Barriers to Further Implementation?
I think it's become a political issue, and everybody agrees that they are safer. One cannot be unsafe if they're standing with a rail in front of them and one behind, it's a proven safety feature.
Obviously, it is easy to understand some of the reasoning behind what is happening in England, but for us we did it solely on a safety issue, not to make extra money or anything else. It's a safe system and if this system had been around at the time the Taylor report was written, I'm sure he would have recommended it as a solution as well. In England, there is still the problem of fans standing in seated areas, which I feel is dangerous, and this is one solution which helps protect the fans who are in those areas.
Is This Only for the Hardcore Football Fans?
Obviously when we initially looked at the area of Celtic Park we used, we had a few groups of supporters who were very keen to stand, they are very robust – lots of singing and dancing, drums, flags and such like, and were very keen to be in a seated area. The section we took out for safe standing was three thousand seats, so we wrote to everyone in the area and explained that this was going to be the next standing area, and that if they wanted to move out, or felt as though their children should not be in there or for whatever other reason, we would find them another seat in the stadium.
We were surprised by the response, 95% of the fans wanted to stay in the area and we have a fully mixed demographic in that rail seating area of the 'ultra' fans as they would call themselves, the ones part of it, right the way through to families with their mums and dads still enjoying it, and their children as well. The idea is safety, so why shouldn't children be in that section – it is protected either side and there is not a problem with them being there.
Although the groups like to keep themselves to themselves, they are in their area as well and behind their area are the other ordinary fans who were there originally and are quite happy to stay there. Basically, the people who are really looking to get into the safe standing area and are on the waiting list, tend to be the 15 to 25-year-old age group.
Has Safe Standing Improved the Fan Experience?
We've had every premiership club, every championship club has been to Celtic Park a lot of them have been to games there and enjoyed every minute of it – they've seen the atmosphere they can get a Celtic Park, they also see the safety angle of it as well.
Our sports liaison officer and our safety officer work with all the clubs, so they've all been to visit and every one of them has so far been very keen to get safe standing in – I think they would do it as soon as the law changed – technically rail seats are seats, so they could be installed, as long as the seat was bolted down.
One of the advantages of the rail seat is they comply with UEFA regulations, to make sure that for UEFA games fans are seated – the seats come down for seated for UEFA games and go up for standing for our SPL games. The atmosphere at Celtic Park is tremendous, the European nights are the best you'll ever see in football, the design of the stadium is very close to the pitch and the fans are well engaged with the players. Every club that comes, all take selfies. The referees even take selfies of themselves at Celtic Park, it's a really good night to come to.
What Makes Celtic Park's Atmosphere So Special?
Winning brings a certain success, a lot of fans like the sense of winning – there's nothing worse than supporting a team that loses every week and Celtic have won most of the league games and the cup games – this season they've won everything.
People may say it's not competitive but we don't choose who is in front of us, so we still have competitive games and everybody has to try and catch up with Celtic rather than Celtic changing for them, but it's a show we put on, we've always had good players at Celtic Park. A lot of players will come in and then move on to other teams in the premiership or abroad, we have lots of players coming through as well from various clubs – they stay for a while, move on and develop, then put their careers further onwards.
Challenges Around Extending the Fan Experience
Our marketing department spends a lot of time on modern technology– Twitter, multimedia, Facebook etc. the social media side of things has developed massively at Celtic Park. When I first arrived there 15 years ago we had quite a small media department, we now have a massive media department and they are always recruiting as technology moves on. So again it's as much fan engagement as we can get, we're looking at themes for the future, we're looking at fan zones and things like this.
One of the problems in Scotland, is there no alcohol is allowed in Scottish football games at all, so unless you are corporate you can't have alcohol. Therefore putting a fan zone on without any bars, misses a bit of the atmosphere of a fan zone, but we're still looking at that to develop those areas as well. There's been lots of legislation which has tried to stop us engaging with fans, the smoking stops people coming in, the drinking stops people coming in, the singing stops people coming in, there are lots of things to stop fans coming in but again we have to work round it and work with the rules, and just engage with the fans to make sure we're promoting it.
Do You Predict Any Relaxation of the Regulations?
No, I think it's for the game itself – safety is very important, people view safety with extreme importance and trying to balance that up with the fans having fun. Today we had a presentation from the Minnesota Vikings and you'll see they are all standing up clapping and again that's against the rules over here. There are various things where you can see people are trying to engage in football and trying to get people to come along, but the rules are very strict. But as long as it's safe and you do things correctly, I think you've got to try to bear with the fans. Rugby, for instance as a sport happens to enjoy a lot more things than football fans, but again it's a different sport. We're also looking to do various other things as well at Celtic Park, we're looking at Rugby, we're looking at concerts, at things like this that we haven't done in the past, to develop the stadium side of things as well.
Could Celtic Park Host Concerts, Rugby and Other Events?
In the past, the football management hasn't been interested and the pitch is always the precious thing. Again, it's just a window of opportunity we have in Scotland, our window is very small, so to do any renovation works we couldn't do those and then also have a concert as well. So we only basically had one window we could sell, but we are putting in a new hybrid pitch again at Celtic Park that would probably benefit in a couple of years' time, where we could actually have a bit more wear and tear on that pitch to do more concerts. We have actually dug in Rugby posts now as well, so the foundations are in for Rugby posts to go in, we've been working well with the local Rugby team, the Glasgow warriors on various opportunities again, so we are looking to get other sports into Celtic Park.