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End of the all-seater era: Government plans more standing pilots

At the weekend Government ministers confirmed that further standing areas will be coming to the top two divisions before the end of the season – signalling an end to the all-seater era.

The BBC reported on Sunday that ministers will instruct the regulator, the Sports Ground Safety Authority (SGSA), to choose early adopters for trials of standing areas in the Premier League and Championship as soon as possible.

If the initial trials prove successful, the expectation is legislation would be widened out to cover all stadiums in England’s top two divisions within the next few years.

A spokesperson for the Sports Ground Safety Authority said: “We are working closely with the government on planning the next steps for implementing this manifesto commitment.”

Earlier this summer, Liverpool became the sixth Premier League club to commit to offering rail seats to their supporters. They follow in the footsteps of Wolves and Tottenham Hotspur who already have such seats installed.

Chelsea and the two Manchester clubs also completed installations of rail seating in the off-season.

FSA chair Malcolm Clarke said: “People who want to stand should be able to do so in safety. Those who want to sit should be able to do so without having their view blocked.

“The safety and customer care arguments have been won. We would urge the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport to proceed as soon as possible.”

Standing legislation

In February 2020 the SGSA reported that standing options – such as rail seats and seats with barriers – had improved safety in the top flight.

This followed a commitment in January 2020 by then-sports minister Nigel Adams that the Government was “keen to deliver” its pledge on allowing standing sections to be introduced in the top two divisions.

All was set before COVID-19 swept the globe, and when football returned it was largely behind-closed-doors with no opportunity to run the research without fans in the stands.

What next?

The SGSA has continued to consult supporters – before the pandemic we helped them survey match-going fans at a number of clubs.

We’ll continue to make the case for different types of standing accommodation – rail seats, seats with barriers, existing licenced standing areas – being available as a menu of options for clubs and local safety advisory groups to consider.

The SGSA’s ideas to engage both away fans and disabled fans, ensuring that standing areas are accessible for all sections of match-goers, are welcome too. Standing areas give supporters choice, improve atmospheres, and reduce tensions between stewards and fans.

In an interview in the Times, secretary of state Oliver Dowden said: “It’s the sensible thing to do because fans are standing all the way through [games] anyway and you can do it in a safer way.

“We’re engaging with the police and others, but we’ll get to the stage this season where we’ll see safe-standing, at least in pilot form.”

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