Five clubs will take part in a safe standing trial from January 1 next year, the Sports Minister Nigel Huddleston has announced.
The trial marks the end of a blanket ban on standing in the top two tiers of English football which has been in place for more than 25 years.
First clubs to offer licensed standing named: @CardiffCityFC, @ChelseaFC, @ManCity, @ManUtd, @SpursOfficial to have licensed ‘safe standing’ areas from 1 January. https://t.co/jA3UNVTKdB#safestandingpic.twitter.com/h51H36mpl8— Sports Grounds Safety Authority (@SGSA_UK) November 8, 2021
Huddleston said: “I’m pleased to approve these five clubs as early adopters of licensed safe standing areas for the second half of the season.
“The time is now right to properly trial safe standing in the Premier League and EFL Championship ahead of a decision on a widespread roll-out.
“Safety is absolutely paramount and the SGSA (Sports Grounds Safety Authority) is working hand-in-glove with the clubs on this.
“Fans deserve different options on how they can enjoy a live match and I will be watching the progress of these trials with interest.”
The pilot will be monitored by the independent firm CFE Research, and its findings will be provided to the Government for it to make a decision on a possible wider roll-out of safe standing for next season.
It is understood Liverpool did not apply to take part in the pilot, because they are already running their own trial with two areas of rail seating at Anfield.
The Merseyside club’s current trial is only designed to allow safe standing at particular moments of excitement in a game, rather than throughout.
The Reds will then review their trial at the end of the season.
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 standing areas follows a commitment by the Government in its 2019 General Election manifesto, and it is a move which has cross-party support.
However, the UK’s football policing lead, Chief Constable Mark Roberts of Cheshire Police, has criticised what he sees as a “headlong rush” to reintroduce standing areas.
He told The Times last week: “My concern is that you get over-migration into the area because it is attractive to some supporters and it is easier when they are stood up.
“You are potentially going to get issues of overcrowding. You will potentially get a more male-dominated crowd, fewer children and older people. That’s going to drive more exclusionary behaviour in terms of the language and behaviour.”
A safe standing campaigner, Jon Darch, has also warned that “red tape” around the all-seater policy which requires an unlocked seat for every supporter creates a safety risk.
He says the situation in England will be different from Europe or Scotland, where rail seats are tipped up and locked out of the way to leave each row completely free of any obstruction.
“Due to Westminster red tape, conditions for standing fans will be unduly cramped and access in an emergency for paramedics will be impeded,” he wrote.
“That’s hugely disappointing and if the Premier League is to be a beacon of stadium safety best practice it requires urgent attention.
“The red tape is not only preventing clubs from providing as much space as their European or Scottish counterparts, it is also introducing a wholly new safety hazard to standing areas: the obligatory presence of a seat that may not be locked upright, out of harm’s way – a seat that can be stood on, and fallen off.
“It is clearly bonkers that for one type of standing, conventional terraces, the safety guidelines call for all structures to be “non-climbable”, while for another type, deemed ‘safe’ standing, the guidelines have to say, due to that red tape, that seats must be accessible.
“And they, of course, can be climbed on. In fact, can even be used as steps to climb up onto the rails themselves, as is already happening.
“And that is clearly not safe. I personally believe that if they had not had one hand tied behind their back by the red tape of the Westminster all-seater policy, the authors of the Guide to Safety at Sports Grounds would have written the guidelines differently.”
A spokesperson for the SGSA said in response to Darch’s comments: “The introduction of licensed standing is an historic change that will improve the safety for those fans whose choice is to stand when watching the game.
“However, we know many fans will still wish to use their seats before the match begins, at half-time and during lulls in the game.
“Making a seat available is a requirement for UEFA and FIFA competitions and will also be vital for those who enjoy the atmosphere in standing areas but cannot stand for the duration of a match. We are commissioning an independent evaluation to ensure we learn any lessons from the first clubs to offer licensed standing areas before Government decides on next steps.”
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