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English Premier League and Championship football clubs can create licensed standing areas at their grounds from January. Clubs have until October 6 to submit an application to the Sports Grounds Safety Authority (SGSA). If approved, they will be able to offer licensed standing areas from January 1, so the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) Sports Minister Nigel Huddleston has instructed the SGSA.
To get standing areas approved, clubs will have to make seats with barriers or independent barriers – which must be in home and away sections. Fans must be able to sit or stand in the licensed area – the seats cannot be locked in the ‘up’ or ‘down’ position. There must also be one seat/space per person. The licensed standing areas must not impact the viewing standards or other fans, including disabled fans.
A club must set a code of conduct for fans standing; and must consult with its Safety Advisory Group about plans for the areas. They will be evaluated from January for the rest of the 2021-22 season.
Sports Minister Nigel Huddleston said: “We have been clear that we will work with fans and clubs towards introducing safe standing at football grounds providing there was evidence that installing seating with barriers would have a positive impact on crowd safety.
“With independent research now complete, and capacity crowds back at grounds across the country, now is the right time to make progress. I look forward to hearing from clubs who wish to be part of our early adopters programme during the second half of this season.”
Other parts of the ground will remain all-seated and fans will be expected to sit in these areas. Here lies a safety and security issue long-running for ground managers and stewards; that away fans in particular have historically defied the rule to sit in all-seater stadiums – brought in after the Taylor Report into the Hillsborough stadium tragedy of 1989 when 96 fans were crushed to death at a FA Cup semi-final, only the most devastating case of crushing in an era when near-tragedies were an accepted risk of going to big matches.
Allowing standing, while controversial ever since Hillsborough, has pros and cons. For; other countries such as Germany have standing at their big grounds, safely; as in Scotland have Celtic FC. Against; the fear of hooliganism (which has duly resurfaced inside and outside grounds, now that fans have returned to stadia after covid) on the terraces in the ‘bad old days’ of the 1970s and 1980s, and another Hillsborough.
Martyn Henderson, Chief Executive of the SGSA, said: “The focus of the SGSA is the safety and enjoyment of all fans at sports grounds. We know many fans want the choice to stand and, with the advent of new engineering solutions, our research has shown how this can be managed safely. Today’s announcement will enable us to properly test and evaluate licensed standing areas before the Government decides its next steps.”
As for the legal process, clubs will need to complete an application form and return it to the SGSA, who will then evaluate the applications and make recommendations to the DCMS.
This move towards allowing standing follows research during the 2019-20 season, before the covid pandemic, which found that seats with barriers/independent barriers helped reduce the safety risks related to persistent standing.
This can affect clubs subject to the Government’s all-seater policy. That is, clubs in the top two tiers of the English game, or any who have been there for three or more seasons since 1994-95, when the Taylor Report came in; plus Wembley Stadium, pictured; and the Principality Stadium in Cardiff. Visit https://sgsa.org.uk/.