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Manchester United set to trial barrier seating in response to Covid-19

Manchester United has been given the green light by Trafford Council to go ahead with a barrier seating trial at Old Trafford.

United submitted a proposal earlier in the year, following changes to the Sports Grounds Safety Authority (SGSA) Guide to Safety at Sports Grounds (Green Guide) and a feasibility study carried out by the club afterwards.

The approval was confirmed to fan representatives at last week’s Fans’ Forum and follows lengthy discussions held with Manchester United Supporters’ Trust (MUST) and the Fans’ Forum in recent years.

Trafford Council’s approval is an agreement in principle for the club to install around 1,500 barrier seats in the North East Quadrant, in sections N2401 and N2402.

United will discuss installation options with potential suppliers, following current UK Government recommendations relating to construction site operating procedures and social distancing. Discussions will also take place with the SGSA to ratify the required amendments to the club’s stadium licence.

“It should be stated up front that our overwhelming priority is to keep our people safe from the COVID-19 pandemic,” Richard Arnold, Group Managing Director, said.

“It may seem strange to talk about stadium plans at this time, but football and our fans will return when it is safe, and our preparations for that must continue in the background.

“This announcement is the latest step in what has been a long journey with our fans. We have listened to their feedback, in particular the representations made by MUST, and worked with Trafford Council to develop and approve this proposal.

“Our belief is that the introduction of barrier seats will enhance spectator safety in areas of the stadium where – as with other clubs – we have seen examples of persistent standing.

It also allows us to future-proof the stadium in the event of any changes to the current all-seater stadium policy. If the trial is successful, we may consider further implementation of barrier seating in other parts of the stadium.

“We will now move on to develop the installation, compliance and licensing plan for the trial with a view to having the new seats installed for when we can welcome our supporters back to Old Trafford.”

The barrier seating trial represents the club’s broader plans to develop the stadium in ways which enhance the match day experience for supporters. In February, United announced the extension of the atmosphere section in the Stretford End’s south-west corner as part of the season ticket launch for 2020/21.

“Both of these initiatives underline our commitment to the continued improvement of Old Trafford, with a focus on further enhancing the matchday experience, atmosphere and safety for all supporters,” Arnold said.

Liam Watson is a Senior Journalist with Soccerscene. He reports widely on international football policy, industry matters and industry 4.0

Western United announce Lakeside Stadium as one of four home grounds – challenge issued by South Melbourne

Western United FC has announced that they will play home fixtures out of Lakeside Stadium in season 2021/22, only for South Melbourne FC to challenge the announcement hours later.

United, which made a long-awaited update on the construction of its new stadium yesterday, released a statement this morning confirming that Lakeside Stadium – home of NPL outfit and unsuccessful A-League licence bidder South Melbourne – will be included in its rotation of home games this season.

The club announced that Lakeside will host seven home games for the A-League side in 2021/22 season, the first of which will come against Perth Glory on Friday, November 26 in Round 2.

However, South Melbourne has moved quickly to challenge the announcement.

Western United had revealed Lakeside Stadium as one of its home grounds for the 2021/22 season, with a written statement on the club’s website.

“United had limited options for the season due to the lack of rectangular stadiums in Melbourne, and the requirement that stadiums must meet the minimum A-League venue standards,” the statement reads.

“Several other options were investigated during the process but did not materialise as viable. This included Knights Stadium in Sunshine which unfortunately required significant infrastructure investment to meet A-League standards.

“United was keen to continue playing at AAMI Park as per the 2020/21 season, but this option was heavily opposed by cross-town rivals Melbourne Victory and Melbourne City, despite being the only rectangular stadium in Melbourne that meets all requirements to host an A-League game.

“Lakeside Stadium was selected for several reasons including being easily accessible both on public transport and on road networks with ample parking for United fans based in the west of Melbourne. It is also a purpose-built football stadium that can be adapted to meet to A-League standards, which was a critical factor in the decision-making process.”

South Melbourne has since directly challenged that any agreement is in place at all.

“South Melbourne FC notes the announcement by Western United FC of its intention to use Lakeside Stadium for a select number of games in the 2021/22 A-League Season,” the NPL club noted in a statement.

“Lakeside Stadium and Albert Park is the home of South Melbourne FC and has been for over 60 years. Our licencing arrangements with Lakeside Stadium and the State Government ensures it will remain this way for decades to come.

“South Melbourne FC has a stadium, we have a home and we are proud to call it our own.

“Executives at Lakeside Stadium and Melbourne Sports Centres have advised South Melbourne FC that contrary to the announcement made by Western United FC, there is no written or signed agreement in place with Western United FC or the Australian Professional Leagues to allow Western United FC access to Lakeside Stadium for the 2021/22 A-League Season.

“South Melbourne considers Western United to be a direct competitor in the Melbourne, Victorian and Australian football market. Their acceptance to the A-League was based largely on the commitment to having a purpose-built football stadium constructed in Melbourne’s west. It is approaching three years since the A-League expansion clubs were announced and construction works have still not commenced. Western United’s use of Lakeside Stadium is not acceptable and South Melbourne FC will vigorously oppose any such plans.

“South Melbourne can confirm that it will be exercising all rights to prevent Western United FC from playing A-League matches at Lakeside Stadium.

“The club will provide its members, players, parents and supporters with further updates as information is available.”

Whilst the South Melbourne statement alleges that “Executives at Lakeside Stadium and Melbourne Sports Centres have advised South Melbourne FC that contrary to the announcement made by Western United FC, there is no written or signed agreement in place with Western United FC or the Australian Professional Leagues to allow Western United FC access to Lakeside Stadium for the 2021/22 A-League Season”, the official Melbourne Sports Centres account did retweet the Western United announcement earlier in the day.

The tweet has since been deleted.

In a written statement released earlier in the day, Western United confirmed that the club considered a range of alternative venues but was met with a wide range of challenges, including from AAMI Park anchor tenants and cross-town rivals, Melbourne City and Melbourne Victory.

Western United CEO Chris Pehlivanis explained the ill-fated search for a suitable rectangular stadium west of Melbourne’s CBD was a vital reminder of the importance of the club’s stadium and precinct project in Wyndham.

“We’ve been working hard to find the best home ground for us, which is not a simple process in a complex sporting environment topped with a global pandemic,” he said.

“Unfortunately, what we want and what our members tell us they want – a rectangular pitch to A-League standard located in the west of Melbourne – doesn’t exist. That’s why we are building Wyndham City Stadium.

“For this season, we wanted to build a home ground advantage that would not only benefit us on the pitch but provide the best solution for a great fan experience for our loyal members and fans that have been with us from the beginning.

“We’re really lucky as a club, we have tough, relentless and dedicated fans that I know will stick on this journey with us through the tough times as we build towards being a great club for the west for generations to come.”

Western Melbourne Group to begin works for Wyndham City Stadium

Western Melbourne Group (WMG) has given a key update on plans for the Wyndham City Stadium and its surrounding precinct.

Western Melbourne Group (WMG) has given a key update on plans for the Wyndham City Stadium and its surrounding precinct.

WMG, the parent company of Western United FC – has committed to the week commencing October 25, 2021 as the time to get construction underway for the new stadium – based at Leakes Road in Tarneit.

Situated 600 metres west of the Leakes and Sewell Road intersection, the early works will see the construction of the site’s haul road to create access to the stadium site for construction vehicles, as well as upgrades to Leakes Road and construction of the interim Ison Road.

Early works are able to proceed while the stadium and the surrounding precinct’s Concept Master Plan awaits the tick of approval. This plan was submitted to the Victorian State Government in July.

Refreshed timeframes have also been established, given the unpredictable nature of COVID-19.

“We thank all of our stakeholders, members and fans for their unwavering support as we continue to work hard on delivering a world-class precinct,” WMG Chairman Jason Sourasis said in a statement on WU’s official website.

“Over the past two pandemic affected years, the club has grown enormously to not only field an A-League team but to include a youth academy with two teams playing in the Victorian NPL, securing a W-League licence for the 2022/23 season, the establishment of a women’s development program, as well as Frame Football and Powerchair teams.

“Whilst the planning process has taken longer than we had hoped, it is vitally important we get the masterplan for the whole precinct right from the start.

“The precinct will allow for the continued growth of our sporting organisation as we expand our academies and pathways further, as well as building a sporting centrepiece for the rapidly growing population in the west of Melbourne.

“This project will shift the professional sporting landscape, as it is the first of its kind in our country. In addition to the sporting legacy, our project gives the west of Melbourne a social and economic boost, which is much needed in these challenging times.”

Additional information on Western Melbourne Group’s project can be viewed via their website here.

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