Reflections on 2021

2021 is a year that won’t be forgotten for a long time, for many reasons.  For me though, I don’t want to focus on the pandemic and the impact it has had on sport, or our own lives.  Instead, I want to focus on one historic announcement – the introduction of licensed standing in the top two tiers of football in England and Wales.

The announcement by the Sports Minister in September that clubs could apply to be early adopters of licensed standing areas was truly historic.  Like many others, I have been working on this for many years.

Since 1995, all clubs in the Premier League or Championship, or those who have enjoyed at least three seasons within those leagues since that season, are required to provide all-seated viewing accommodation. This requirement arose from one of the 76 recommendations made by Lord Justice Taylor in his Final Report into the Hillsborough Stadium disaster in 1989. This is enforced through the Sports Grounds Safety Authority’s (SGSA’s) licence conditions, which allow fans to enter the football ground.

The all-seater requirement however has not been universally popular with football fans and, for many years, those who would prefer to stand have campaigned for limited standing areas to be reintroduced.  And many have chosen to stand in seated areas, despite the risks to themselves and others of doing so.

The focus of the SGSA is the safety and enjoyment of all fans at sports grounds.  We know many fans want the choice to stand and, with the advent of new engineering solutions, our research has shown how this can be managed safely.

The five early adopters – at Cardiff City FC, Chelsea FC, Manchester City FC, Manchester United FC and Tottenham Hotspur FC – will start from 1 January 2022.  The grounds were selected following an application process, open to all grounds covered by the all-seater policy.

Clubs had to meet a number of criteria in order to receive approval to have licensed standing areas, including:

  • The necessary infrastructure being in place before 1 January – such as seats with barriers/independent barriers – which must be in both home and away sections.
  • The seats cannot be locked in the ‘up’ or ‘down’ position, allowing fans the option of being able to sit (for example, during breaks in play).
  • There must also be one seat/space per person.
  • The licensed standing areas must not impact the viewing standards or other fans, including disabled fans.
  • Consideration being given to accessibility and equality issues arising from the installation or other parts of the stadium impacted by it.

Importantly, it is not a reintroduction of terraces in top flight grounds and other spectator viewing areas of the ground, without barriers, will remain subject to the Government’s all-seater policy.

Over the remaining part of the season, research will be carried out at the grounds by CFE Research, to evaluate the implementation of licensed standing areas at early adopter grounds.  This research will be provided to Government to inform its decisions about the potential wider roll-out of licensed standing from the start of next season.

Lord Justice Taylor’s report stated that “complacency is the enemy of safety”.  That quote is as relevant today as it was 30 years ago – we must never be complacent.  Nor should we discount advances in safety simply because it is a change to the established norm.   Our focus is, and always will be, the safety of all fans at sports grounds.  The introduction of licensed standing areas is an important and exciting step and I look forward to its safe introduction.

Ken Scott, Head of Inspectorate

See other reflections on 2021:

2021 – reasons to be cheerful part 4 – Martyn Henderson, Chief Executive

End of year reflections from the Chair – Derek Wilson, Chair