The home grounds of clubs in the Premier League, Championship, League 1 and League 2, along with Wembley and Principality Stadium, require an annual licence issued by the SGSA before any spectator can be admitted to watch an association football match at that ground.
The primary purpose of the licensing scheme is to enforce the Government’s policy that all clubs in the FA Premier League and Football League Championship plus Wembley and the Principality Stadium must have all-seated stadia and that any standing accommodation in Football Leagues 1 and 2 is of the prescribed standard.
The licence issued to each club specifies the areas of the ground to which spectators may be admitted. Under the provisions of the Football Spectators Act 1989 it is an offence to admit spectators to any of the above grounds, or parts of those grounds, which are not licensed. Conditions in the licence do not apply to other (non-football) events taking place at those grounds. Club’s promoted into the Football League Championship for the first time are allowed up to three years to convert the ground to all-seated accommodation.
If a club is promoted to the Championship and is subsequently relegated at the end of the season, the club will have two years from the date of its next promotion to the Championship in which to meet the all-seated requirement in its stadium. In other words if a club is relegated the “all-seated” clock is not turned back, it merely pauses. Clubs promoted into the Football League for the first time have a maximum of three years to bring their terracing up to the prescribed standard.
Home grounds of clubs newly promoted from the National League to League 2 require a SGSA licence, while the home grounds of clubs relegated from League 2 to the National League become no longer subject to the SGSA licensing requirements.
Which Grounds Require the SGSA Licence?
Wembley Stadium, the Principality Stadium in Cardiff, and the home grounds of clubs FA Premier League, Football Championship, League 1 and League 2 require a licence issued by the SGSA before any spectator can be admitted to watch an association football match at that ground.
Applying for a licence
The annual licence issued by the SGSA to each club specifies the areas of the ground to which spectators may be admitted. Under the provisions of the 1989 Act it is an offence to admit spectators to any of the above grounds, or parts of those grounds, which are not licensed. Conditions in the licence do not apply to other (non-football) events taking place at those grounds.
Club’s promoted into the Football League Championship for the first time are allowed up to three years to convert the ground to all-seated accommodation.
It is an offence to admit spectators to any unlicensed accommodation during a designated football match.
The number of spectators who may be admitted to licensed accommodation is limited to the capacity set out in the safety certificate issued by the relevant local authority
When is a licence needed?
The Safety of Sports Grounds Act 1975 empowers the Secretary of State to designate any sports ground, which, in his opinion, has accommodation for more than 10,000 spectators, or 5,000 in the case of Premier League and Football League grounds in England and Wales. This function is performed by the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.
The Secretary of State will normally be aware of major new sports grounds under construction but may not always have been informed of developments that might increase the capacity of an existing sports ground above the threshold for designation. It is therefore incumbent upon the local authority to notify the Secretary of State of any sports ground likely to require designation. It should give at least 10 weeks’ notice, so that the Secretary of State has sufficient time to be satisfied that the sports ground meets the criteria. As part of this process, the Secretary of State will formally consult the local authority, the sports ground owner, the emergency services and, where it will have a statutory role.
The notification to the Secretary of State should include the proposed capacity of the sports ground, together with its full postal address as soon as this is known. While this may appear pedantic, and can be difficult to supply for new sports grounds where the precise address has not been fixed, it is the only certain means of identification. While the name of the sports ground may change, the postal address rarely does.
The designation order remains in force unless or until formally revoked by the Secretary of State. If a designated sports ground is demolished or is permanently modified, so as to reduce the capacity below the threshold, the local authority should formally notify the Secretary of State and request that it be de-designated. Should the local authority not do so, the certificate holder may apply directly to the Secretary of State.
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When a National League club is promoted to the Football League, the SGSA will write to the club secretary inviting them to make an application for a licence. The fee for the annual licence is £100. As part of the licence application the club secretary will be asked to complete a questionnaire about the design and layout of crush barriers and gangways on any terraced areas within the ground. The purpose of the questionnaire is to assist the SGSA to assess whether the standing accommodation is of the prescribed standard.
Where the terracing is not of the prescribed standard the club will be required to either make the necessary alterations to the terrace or to take the terrace out of use. A newly promoted club will be allowed up to a maximum of three years in which to bring the terracing up to the prescribed standard. However, where a club has previously played in the Football League since the start of the 1999/2000 season the three year deadline will be reduced by the time previously spent in the Football League. Therefore a club which had previously spent two years in the Football League would have one year to undertake the necessary work on the terracing.