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Safe standing areas allowed for 2022/23 season - What can the fans expect? Sky Sports News' Geraint Hughes answers the key questions...

Premier League and Championship clubs will be allowed to introduce safe standing areas from the start of the 2022/23 season; Brentford, QPR and Wolves will join Cardiff City, Chelsea, Man City, Man United and Tottenham in offering licensed safe standing areas for home and away fans.

Stamford Bridge was also part of the trial
Image: The government has confirmed Premier League and Championship clubs will be allowed to introduce safe standing areas at football stadiums from the start of the 2022/23 season

The government has confirmed Premier League and Championship clubs will be allowed to introduce safe standing areas at football stadiums from the start of the 2022/23 season, but what does this mean and what can fans expect?

Brentford, QPR and Wolves will be the first clubs to join Cardiff City, Chelsea, Manchester City, Manchester United and Tottenham, who took part in a trial in the second half of last season, in offering licensed safe standing areas for home and away fans.

Other clubs are expected to bring in safe standing areas during the course of the football season Wembley Stadium will also offer a small licensed safe standing area for fans at domestic matches later in the season.

Here, Sky Sports News' senior reporter Geraint Hughes answers the key questions with licensed safe standing areas set to be rolled out at the start of the forthcoming season...

What do we know so far?

Cardiff City, Chelsea, Manchester City, Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur took part in the early adopter programme during the second half of the 2021/2022 season. A 2-2 draw on 2 January between Chelsea and Liverpool at Stamford Bridge kicked off the test events.

Under licensed standing, fans are allowed to stand for matches in allocated spaces behind a barrier or a rail in areas of persistent standing. Each supporter has to occupy the same area they would take if they were sitting, with a traceable, numbered ticket.

Seats cannot be locked in the up or down position, so fans can can sit if they wish to, and the standing areas cannot affect the views of other fans. Other parts of the grounds remain all-seated and fans are expected to sit in these areas.

Standing areas are already commonplace in Germany’s Bundesliga and there are similar examples across the rest of Europe, the United States and Australia.

Why is this such an important announcement?

Man Utd were part of the trial for safe standing areas in the second half of last season
Image: Man Utd were part of the trial for safe standing areas in the second half of last season

This is important for a number of reasons.

Firstly, because it has been a pledge by the current government. It's politics and sport mixing which is always interesting but also, it has been on the agenda for some years with many supporters saying the match day experience would be better if fans were able to stand safely.

So, you have that but also you have in everyone's mind the backdrop of events in Hillsborough from 1989 and after that, legislation came in to bring about all-seater stadiums. It was literally just that, stadiums, certainly in the top two divisions, became all-seater with everyone sitting from a safety perspective so that another disaster like Hillsborough would not happen again.

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So, the reason why this is so significant is because all the trials, all the data and everything that has been worked through has been with that in mind so that a scenario like Hillsborough can never happen again, and where they are pointing out a huge difference is that you are not going back to the old days of terracing.

It is one space, one person and there is effectively still a seat in that area. For the majority of grounds, it won't be rail seating, but it will be a seating area where the seats can go up and there is a rail in front where you can stand.

With the data they have crunched over the last six months, five clubs took part in a trial - the two Manchester clubs, Chelsea, Tottenham and Cardiff City - they believe this is now safe to roll out. They have done a few tweaks, but they now believe this is safe to start implementing at other Premier League, Championship clubs, and any club actually who has been in either the Premier League or the Championship for three years since the mid-nineties.

So, in total around 63 clubs are eligible to apply if they want safe standing areas.

'Only clubs that meet a strict safety criteria will be allowed'

Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries said:

“We want to make the experience of watching football as magical as the play on the pitch. Fans will now be able to cheer on their team from a seat or join others in a safe standing section to really get behind the players and roar on their heroes to victory.

“We are not reintroducing terraces and only clubs which meet strict safety criteria will be permitted. Thanks to a robust trial, thorough evidence and modern engineering, we are now ready to allow standing once again in our grounds.”

Is there any opposition to this?

In January, the Government launched an 'early adopters' programme to pilot the roll out of licensed 'safe standing' during the remainder of the 2021/22 season
Image: In January, the government launched an 'early adopters' programme to pilot the roll out of licensed 'safe standing' during the remainder of the 2021/22 season

There is probably still concern about safe standing areas coming in because for a significant proportion of people it is a very difficult subject to talk about, even think about.

There has been engagement between government, the Sports Ground Safety Authority and members of the families of the Hillsborough victims. They have spoken over the previous few years about the schemes that would adopt safe standing trials and what it would look like.

The feedback from the government and the Sports Ground Safety Authority is that the majority see the benefits of these safe standing areas, they are safe, and this is not a return to terracing areas that we saw, for example, at Hillsborough in 1989.

There is going to absolutely no replication of areas like that, far from it. It is a seated area where the seat can be up, with a rail in front so that you can stand.

One thing they have learned from this trial is that is it literally one person, one space. So, you are not going to have areas that are going to be overpopulated.

For some people, it will be very difficult because the emotions are raw and they will always be raw, but there has been engagement with the families of the Hillsborough victims and supporter groups, and I think it has been a long time coming because they have been trying to mitigate and get this right so that it is an area that is not just as safe as it can be but is safer than having areas where there are seats but where crowds tend to stand often.

They have done a lot of data crunching looking at areas where fans stand and actually it is more dangerous to have a seated area where fans are persistently standing because a fan could topple over and fall on top of the person in front. The idea with a safe standing area is that can't happen because there is a great big rail in front of your seat and behind your seat.

Safety is very much the buzzword and why the trial has taken six months, but also why this has been many years in the making.

'We have worked carefully with supporters'

Sports Minister Nigel Huddleston said:

“Based upon what I have experienced and we have learnt through the pilot programme, safe standing is set to deliver an electric atmosphere at our football stadiums.

“Fans have long campaigned for its introduction and we have worked carefully with supporters groups, including the families affected by the tragic Hillsborough football disaster.

“I am proud of the work that has gone into this rigorous process and that we have delivered on our manifesto commitment to get fans back on their feet in stadiums.”

Which clubs will be taking part?

A safe standing area t the Etihad Stadium
Image: A safe standing area t the Etihad Stadium

The five clubs who were in the trial - Man City, Man Utd, Chelsea, Tottenham and Cardiff City - they continue with a new licence for the forthcoming season.

They are joined by three news clubs in Brentford, Wolves and QPR. So, that is eight in total that they hope by the start of the season that will be able to adopt a safe standing area.

The expectation with Monday's announcement that there is legislation allowing these safe standing areas is there will now be a number of applications to the Sports Ground Safety Authority for clubs to explore the option of having a safe standing area.

So, eight for now but there is an expectation there will be more.

On top of those eight clubs, Wembley Stadium, which is not a club ground but a national stadium, that is having a small safe standing area installed. It will be 2,000 spaces, 1,000 at each end in the lower concourse behind the goals.

That can be used for domestic matches only. So, for example, FA Cup finals and semi-finals and the League Cup final. However, not for international matches because that licence normally comes from UEFA and FIFA together and their insistence, at the moment, is for all-seater stadiums.

An interim report into the trial, published by the Sports Grounds Safety Authority (SGSA) in April, found:

  • Goal celebrations being more orderly with no opportunity for forwards and backwards movement of fans, reducing the risk of fans falling on those around them.
  • Barriers offering stability for people moving up and down aisles and gangways.
  • Latecomers being able to access their seats in the middle of rows more quickly, as others are already standing and have barriers to lean against to allow them to pass.
  • Pockets of overcrowding being easier to identify to security officials, as fans are lined up more clearly.

Will all clubs eventually look to implement?

There is a possibility that this will certainly be expanded beyond eight clubs.

But the real crucial word here is safe, and this is what this trial over the last six months, where they have been able to have proper, large crowds interacting during a game in a safe standing area has been for.

You have had the Sports Ground Safety Authority look at it, the clubs look at it and the police look at it.

They have learned a lot over the last six months and there have been some changes made, but there is agreement from all the parties that it is a safe environment.

So, I think there will be a number of clubs now, who will look, going forward, to build safe standing areas in their stadiums, but just to be clear here, there is no timeframe here for anyone. Nobody is being rushed into. It is totally at the club's discretion.

What the announcement is bringing is that there is legislation allowing safe standing areas to be rolled out. The clubs can do it if they want to do it. Let's not forget that this will be at the club's cost. You have got to take that into account as well.

I think clubs will do this at pace when they can afford to do it, when they have the opportunity to do it, but yes, expect it to be rolled out beyond just the eight clubs that we are going to see implement it for the start of the 2022/23 season.

A final report on last season's Government-commissioned trial has concluded:

  • The exit of fans from the stadia is more uniform because the barriers limit spectators’ ability to climb over seats to exit more quickly.
  • Spectators are lined up more clearly and therefore any risk of overcrowding can be identified, particularly using CCTV.
  • Stewards can be put in more locations without risking impacting sightlines.
  • There is no evidence to date that the introduction of licensed standing areas has led to an increase in standing elsewhere in stadia.

What can the fans expect?

A safe standing area in action at Chelsea
Image: A safe standing area in action at Chelsea

For the majority of fans, it will be what they expected and what they wanted. For example, at Tottenham, it is the iconic home end. It is the first section of that end and there are 7,000 seats there that have a safe standing area. At Chelsea, it is similar. It is at either end of the ground behind the goals.

It is the kind of areas where you expect people, even at an all-seater stadium, when either there is an exciting or controversial moment where a significant proportion of the crowd would stand up. They have looked at those areas where people do stand up for a significant moment or even for a longer period of time, and that is where the safe standing areas have gone in. So, predominantly they are behind the goals but there are other areas as well.

For the clubs that have been in these trials, they have used those fans, who have already experienced this, to give them feedback. What is this like? Does it work for you?

From what we are being told by the government and others is that the feedback has been vastly positive, and also, from the police as well because they are the people that have to look for a potential flashpoint or a dangerous moment. They have looked at this and they see this as an enhanced experience as well.

One thing it seems to do is that you don't get that antagonistic moment where you have got stewards telling people to sit down in a standing area because if you bought a ticket in that area, you are expecting to stand so you stand. If you want to sit down, you sit down but you know everyone else around you are standing so you don't get that antagonism between stewards and fans. They are also finding that people are coming in and out of stadiums quicker than they were before.

That is the feedback we are being told, the data they have crunched, and it seems to be a positive experience for most fans who have experienced it so far.

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