Five football clubs will take part in a safe standing trial from 1 January 2022, the sports minister Nigel Huddleston has confirmed.
Manchester United, Manchester City, Tottenham, Chelsea in the Premier League, and Cardiff City in the Championship, are the clubs whose applications to operate licensed safe standing areas have been approved. 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.
“I’m pleased to approve these five clubs as early adopters of licensed safe standing areas for the second half of the season,” Huddleston said. “The time is now right to properly trial safe standing in the Premier League and Championship ahead of a decision on a widespread roll-out.
“Safety is absolutely paramount and the Sports Grounds Safety Authority (SGSA) 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.”
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 club will then review their trial at the end of the season.
The wider pilot scheme will be monitored by the independent firm CFE Research, and its findings will be provided to the government, in order to make a decision on a possible wider roll-out of safe standing for next season. The introduction of safe standing areas was a commitment in the government’s 2019 general election manifesto, and it is a move which has cross-party support.
Standing areas in what are 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 Football Supporters’ Association has regularly called for safe standing to be introduced, and has welcomed the government proposals.
The UK’s football policing lead, chief constable Mark Roberts of Cheshire police, has raised concerns about a “headlong rush” to reintroduce standing areas. “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,” he told the Times last week.
“You are potentially going to get issues of overcrowding [and] a more male-dominated crowd, fewer children and older people. That’s going to drive more exclusionary behaviour.” Roberts added. Meanwhile, some campaigners are concerned that “red tape” around the policy creates a safety risk.
Jon Darch, who runs the Safe Standing Roadshow campaign group, believes the situation in the English leagues, where the all-seater policy requires an unlocked seat for each supporter, poses risks not seen in Europe or Scotland, where rail seats are locked upright 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,” Darch 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 SGSA has been asked to respond to his comments.
Chelsea’s home game against Liverpool on 2 January is set to be the first Premier League match with safe standing areas as part of the trial, subject to fixture changes.