THERE are 25 supporters in the East Stand tomorrow who might be about to change the way English football is watched in the future.

After extensive testing, Oxford United have installed a barrier the back row of one block at the Kassam Stadium.

If successful in a half-season pilot, there are plans to expand the ‘Ox-Rails’ concept to 1,390 seats in the East Stand and 810 in the away section of the North Stand.

It is the first of its kind in the UK and is the brainchild of U’s safety officer Ian Mixter.

He said: “There was an issue where we had fans, both home and away, who chose to persistently stand in a seated stadium.

“You could say that’s in breach of the ground regulations, but it happens nationally.

“We had tried a number of things – persuasion, removal, consultation – to get them to sit.

“I don’t think that debate was ever really going to be won.

“But when we were playing Wimbledon last October and I just had one of those lightbulb moments about putting a rail in.

“It’s such a simple idea, I thought ‘why has this not been done somewhere else before?’

“The more we researched it, the more it became clear it was a goer.

“It’s the first one in the UK and I think Oxford should be rightly proud of that.”

A sketched idea is now a reality – a horizontal bar 90cm high running across 25 seats.

Mixter is at pains to point out this should not be viewed as United encouraging anyone to stand. But if they do, it should be far safer.

“There is anecdotal area from people around the country with sore knees and falling over seats, that type of thing,” he said.

“But from that hazard there would be a risk of a progressive crowd collapse.

“We observed the crowd and ticked off where people were standing over a large number of games.

“So we said ‘these are the areas we need to do something about’.”

Colin Barson, chairman of supporters’ trust OxVox, said: “Hopefully the trial works and then I would look forward to it being rolled out, as proposed, over a much larger area, which will enhance and the atmosphere.

“It’s up to us fans to make it work, so I hope everyone appreciates it’s one person per space in the row which has the rail.”

The trial comes at a time when the debate over safe standing in English football is a hot topic.

Last weekend Shrewsbury Town used rail seating for the first time, while there is also a section at Celtic Park.

Ox-Rails is a different design, but the hope is United can convince the authorities that it does not change the Kassam Stadium’s all-seater status.

If that happened the impact could be huge, as even under existing legislation it would be permitted in the top two divisions.

The one message to supporters is to avoid overcrowding in the area, so only those 25 supporters with tickets for the row in question should be behind the rail.

Mixter said: “I’m confident the supporters will embrace this and work with us.

“While they will be shaping the future of football safety locally, there is a massive interest in this nationally.”