Aston Villa keen to trial standing area at Villa Park

By Dan RoanBBC chief sports correspondent
Bristol City trial safe standing area

Aston Villa have told the BBC that almost half the clubs in the Premier League are interested in reintroducing standing at their stadiums.

Villa have offered to conduct a trial of 'rail-seats' at Villa Park.

Their football operations manager Lee Preece said: "We'd be interested in a trial at Villa Park if that would help.

"We've identified areas we could use for a small-scale trial so the rest of football could see if it works within a Premier League environment."

He added: "There's at least seven or eight clubs that have come forward to say they are also interested in furthering the debate."

Preece was speaking at Ashton Gate where League One Bristol City plan to become the first club in the United Kingdom to install rail seats, which have been pioneered in the German Bundesliga.

The seats can either be unlocked or locked to create a standing or seated area inside a stadium.

Regulations currently prohibit their use in English football, so they will initially be used for rugby games at Ashton Gate.

"The desire to further the debate is moving quickly," said Preece.

"But we're keen to support the Football Supporters' Federation and advance the debate so we can get to the point where we can decide if we're going to do this or not.

"The supporters will see the benefits of their own matchday experience in terms of atmosphere.

"For us as a club, perhaps the biggest advantage is around the issue of fans standing in areas that are licensed for seating only. "

The Football League has agreed to lobby the Government in a bid to permit "safe standing" areas in the game.

All-seater stadiums have been compulsory in the Premier League and Championship since an inquiry into the 1989 Hillsborough disaster, which claimed the lives of 96 Liverpool fans.

The disaster occurred when 96 supporters died after being crushed within Sheffield Wednesday's stadium during their FA Cup semi-final against Nottingham Forest.

Margaret Aspinall, who lost her son James in the tragedy and is the chair of the Hillsborough Family Support Group, called the timing of the trial "insensitive" and claimed the idea was a backward step.

The group is currently preparing for new inquests into the tragedy to start and Aspinall said they would be writing to every league club to urge them to reject any plans to introduce safe standing areas.

"I find it very insensitive at this moment in time because obviously the most important thing for the families is these inquests," said Aspinall.

"We've got the 25th anniversary coming up, now we feel as if this is like another battle. We feel as if 'why bring it up at this time when we've not had any accountability whatsoever for the 96 deaths'.

"I just wish the 96 could have been at an all-seater stadium. It cost them their lives for us to try and make it safe for everybody else, so please try and understand our position. We are not opposing. We are not against you. All we want is your safety."

Standing is allowed in League One and League Two, but Championship grounds must be all-seater if clubs have played in the second tier for at least three consecutive seasons.