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Safe management of persistent standing in seated areas

In 2019, the SGSA commissioned independent research on the nature and scale of standing at football, associated safety risks and how to mitigate them. 

CFE Research carried out the work on behalf of the SGSA, which took place during the 2019/20 season. The research was part of the SGSA’s work on the introduction of licensed safe standing at football grounds subject to the Government’s all-seater policy.

Emerging findings were published in 2020, with the full report published in 2021.

Key findings

Attempts to enforce the all-seater policy can be a source of conflict between spectators who persistently stand and those who wish to sit, as well as between spectators and stewards. The introduction of areas where standing is tolerated appears to have reduced the potential for conflict, and the associated risks.

A range of behaviours are associated with persistent standing that can present a risk to safety including migration within and between stands, blocking gangways, and exuberant, unstable celebrations. If migration leads to overcrowding, the risk of injuries caused by trips, falls and surges is heightened. Overall, low levels of risk behaviours were evident in standing areas at the clubs in this research.

The level of risk also depends on the rake or steepness of the stand where spectators are persistently standing. Designated areas where standing is tolerated are typically of a lower rake (23 degrees or lower at clubs in this research). Strategies to manage the safety of spectators in tolerated standing areas are nuanced to take account of the physical features of stadia, the behaviour of spectators, and the match context.  

Effective management strategies are characterised by the presence of high-quality CCTV monitoring, specific risk assessments, distancing between tolerated home standing areas and away sections, ticketing strategies that take spectators’ preferences into account and enhanced levels of stewarding by experienced staff. Supporter engagement and the co-operation of away clubs are also integral to successful management strategies.

Installing barriers or rails has had a positive impact on spectator safety in these areas, particularly in mitigating the risk of a progressive crowd collapse. The barriers almost completely eliminate the possibility of forwards or backwards movement during goal celebrations and the risk of a surge that could cause injury to those in front. Standing on unlocked seats, seat backs and barriers is, however, possible and could cause injuries, but these would likely be a result of a deliberate act and other spectators remain better protected against this where barriers have been installed. Spectators and staff are satisfied that barriers have improved safety.

The installation of barriers or rails is perceived to have wider, positive effects on spectator behaviour. Police have not been deployed to areas with barriers operated by the case study clubs this season. Barriers also help to enhance spectators’ feelings of safety which increases their enjoyment of the game.

Areas where standing is tolerated are popular with spectators because of the atmosphere that is created. Wheelchair platforms have been successfully integrated into tolerated standing areas to provide a more inclusive experience.

Creating areas where standing is tolerated (with or without barriers) does not appear to encourage or increase the likelihood that spectators will engage in the risk behaviours that pose a threat to safety. It does not appear to increase standing elsewhere in a stadium, but neither does it eradicate it. Strict enforcement of the seating policy in other areas can be effective, but can take time to embed.

Persistent standing amongst away spectators, particularly from high-risk opposition which varies by club, remains the biggest challenge. The combination of behaviours that contribute to an increased risk of falls forward are generally more prevalent in away areas, suggesting that these should be a priority when considering barriers as a mitigation measure. Having an enforced seating area for away spectators, who are more likely than home spectators to have to stand in order to see rather than through choice, can enhance the safety and experience of those who prefer to sit.

The findings in this report start to address the gaps in understanding about the risks of persistent standing and how to manage them in the context of the 2019 Conservative and Unionist Party manifesto pledge to “work with fans and clubs towards introducing safe standing”. In the event of any change in legislation, it will be important to monitor the implementation and evaluate the success of strategies to manage spectator safety in in order to fully understand the potential risks and the most effective management strategies for these areas.

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