Clubs in the Premier League and Championship will be able to offer licensed standing areas from 1 January as part of a pilot programme. The Sports Grounds Safety Authority (SGSA) set out the plans in a statement on Wednesday.
The introduction of designated safe standing areas would mean an end to the blanket ban on standing in the top two divisions of English football, which has been in place for more than 25 years. Clubs must apply to be part of the “early adopter” programme by 6 October and, if approved, will be able to operate a licensed standing area from New Year’s Day until the end of the season.
The SGSA said the project would be independently evaluated, with all other areas of grounds remaining all-seater. Standing areas in what is now the Premier League and Championship were outlawed by legislation passed in the wake of the 1989 Hillsborough disaster, which led to the deaths of 97 Liverpool fans.
The introduction of the licensed standing areas follows a commitment by the government in its 2019 General Election manifesto and it is a move that has cross-party support.
The 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.”
Clubs must meet a range of criteria in order to gain approval. These include having the necessary infrastructure in home and away areas, allowing fans to sit or stand in the standing areas with the seats not locked in the up or down position, ensuring the areas do not affect the view for other fans including those with disabilities, providing a code of conduct for standing fans and consulting with the relevant Safety Advisory Group.
The SGSA chief executive, Martyn Henderson, 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.”
Research was conducted during the 2019-20 season, before the coronavirus pandemic began, and found that seats with barriers or independent barriers helped reduce the safety risk of persistent standing.
The announcement affects clubs subject to the government’s all-seater policy. That includes clubs in the Premier League and Championship, or any club who have been in those divisions for three or more seasons since 1994-95, plus Wembley Stadium and the Principality Stadium.
The Football Supporters’ Association chief executive, Kevin Miles, welcomed the move.“We are beyond delighted to finally claim a win for the FSA’s safe standing campaign after extra-time, penalties and more than a few replays and postponements!
“Today’s announcement is the result of prolonged and sustained campaigning by football fans – a victory for ordinary people with ordinary jobs who refused to accept the Taylor Report’s contention that standing could not be managed safely.”