The introduction of safe standing areas in England’s top two divisions has moved a step closer after an interim report said seated areas incorporating barriers had a “positive impact” on spectator safety.
The interim report from the Sports Grounds Safety Authority (SGSA) found that installing barriers in a seated area “mitigated the risk of crowd collapse”.
Sports minister Nigel Adams welcomed the report and said: “Over a million people watch live football at a ground every week, and having spoken to fans across the country, I know that safe standing is an issue many feel passionately about.
“As we made clear in our election manifesto, we will work with fans and clubs towards introducing safe standing at football grounds.
“However it is imperative that football remains as safe as it has become over the past 25 years. Robust evidence that this change will provide equivalent or improved safety for supporters will be absolutely paramount to this process.”
All-seater stadiums have been mandatory in the top two divisions of English football since 1994-95, following recommendations on stadium safety made in the Taylor Report in the wake of the 1989 Hillsborough disaster.
However, areas of seating incorporating barriers have been introduced at Tottenham and Wolves.
The interim report from the SGSA also found clubs had developed management strategies to deal with persistent standing appropriate to the layout of their stadium, and that it is possible to incorporate wheelchair platforms into the areas with barriers.
The report also observed “very little conflict” as a result of standing, either between fans, or between fans and stewards, in areas containing barriers.
The report observed that during high-profile matches fans were more likely to stand, and that stewards were occupied with other issues which took their attention away from dealing with persistent standing.
It also noted that migration into the areas with barriers leading to overcrowding “remains a risk that requires ongoing management”.
SGSA chief executive Martyn Henderson said: “Our research is providing new insights into the positive impact that installing seats with barriers can have on crowd safety.
“The research is ongoing and we will publish the final report at the end of the season. In the meantime, we will work closely with the Government on the implementation of its manifesto commitment to introduce safe standing.”
Peter Daykin, head of the Football Supporters’ Association’s ‘Stand Up For Choice’ campaign, said: “We’re getting ever closer to seeing licensed standing areas return to clubs across the Premier League and Championship.
“It’s entirely appropriate that the minister and SGSA take all the time they need to deliver the choice to stand safely and in a way that solves the issues caused by the all-seater legislation.
“We’ll continue to make the case for different types of standing accommodation being available to all clubs and supporters. Many clubs in the EFL and beyond safely manage supporters in licensed standing areas and that should be one choice from a menu of options for local safety advisory groups to consider.
“The SGSA’s ideas to give disabled fans the opportunity to participate in the fantastic atmospheres which standing areas can generate are very positive. The acknowledgement that away fans should be considered in this process is very, very important too.
“Standing areas give supporters choice in how they watch their football, but also reduce tension between fans and stewards, and improve the atmosphere in football grounds across the country. More than ever before politicians and the football authorities now share those beliefs.”