This article was originally published by the Football Supporters’ Association (FSA) on 5th January, 2021.
The latest phase of the decades-long safe standing campaign began this month as trial areas saw their first official use in the Premier League.
Home and away supporters at the Chelsea v Liverpool game on January 2nd were able to stand in designated safe standing areas as the Government launched its landmark trial of safe standing for the remainder of the domestic football season.
Supporters at Old Trafford for the Manchester United v Wolves game were also offered the choice to stand in designated areas for the first time.
In total five clubs – Cardiff City, Chelsea, Manchester City, Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur – will be the first in the top two tiers of football to have licensed safe standing in designated rail-seated and seated areas for home and away fans, as the Government works towards fulfilling its manifesto commitment.
“This is a huge step forward,” said FSA chief executive Kevin Miles. “This is something we’ve been campaigning for 30 years on.
“It’s great to see people now being offered the choice on whether to sit or stand at a football match. I will feel more secure having that safety rail in front of me there. I think that will make a difference to the confidence of fans in the stands about their own safety.”
Over the last 18 months the Sports Ground Safety Authority has been gathering evidence on standing areas and has concluded that standing is no less safe than seating where managed properly.
If the initial trials prove successful, the expectation is legislation would be widened to cover all stadiums in England’s top two divisions within the next few years.
Sports minister Nigel Huddleston said: “Fans have long campaigned for the introduction of safe standing, so I’m pleased that Stamford Bridge will launch this pilot programme that will allow us to carry out an in-depth trial at some of our biggest stadia over the remainder of the season, and inform a decision on a widespread roll-out.
“Safety will be absolutely paramount at all times. Detailed work is being carried out to monitor these early adopters, and the SGSA will work hand-in-glove with football clubs, supporters groups, local authorities and the police.”
The clubs involved in the pilot will have to adhere to strict conditions including enhanced use of CCTV, improved steward training, and fans utilising licensed safe standing areas being strictly limited to ‘one person, one space.’
We’ve long argued there is a tradition of fans standing at games as it increases choice, improves atmospheres and ensures supporter safety when hosted in properly managed and licensed standing areas.
The start of the pilot scheme is a step by the Government towards delivering their manifesto commitment to introduce standing areas at all-seater grounds.
But what if standing isn’t allowed at your ground? What can supporters do?
We’ve always said the choice to stand should be a conversation between supporters, clubs and local safety bodies. So the obvious first step is getting the club on board and prepared for a change in legislation.
At Sheffield United, the Stand United 1889 has been lobbying the club to introduce standing areas at Bramall Lane and canvassing opinion amongst the fanbase.
88% of respondents to their survey said they wanted to see rail-seating installed at Bramall Lane with only 6% opposed to the idea. “United fans were really clear in the survey that they want to see the club trial safe standing soon,” Stand United said.
“Other clubs have crowdfunded for this in the past. Fans highlighted in the survey that they would be willing to dip into their own pockets to help get rail seating to the Lane.”
The club responded in the press before Christmas, saying they appreciate the benefits of dedicated standing areas.
In a statement released to the Sheffield Star, a club spokesman said: “Sheffield United appreciates the benefits in operating a safe standing area at Bramall Lane and have held discussions with the Sports Ground Safety Authority (SGSA).
“We are monitoring the trial period, whilst continuing to have discussions.”
This is the kind of activity that leads to productive conversations about standing at the match and if your fan group wants to know more, get in touch with the FSA.