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Action needed on standing at UK stadiums: safety chief

 

Football grounds in England's top two divisions have had to be all-seater ever since the 1989 Hillsborough disaster that saw 96 Liverpool fans die in a crush during an FA Cup semi-final (stock photo)
Football grounds in England's top two divisions have had to be all-seater ever since the 1989 Hillsborough disaster that saw 96 Liverpool fans die in a crush during an FA Cup semi-final (stock photo)

By Matt Slater

The most senior stadium safety expert in England and Wales believes it is only a matter of time before a fan is "seriously injured or even killed" because of confusion around rules on standing.

Football grounds in England's top two divisions have had to be all-seater ever since the 1989 Hillsborough disaster that saw 96 Liverpool fans die in a crush during an FA Cup semi-final.

But the law against prolonged standing at Premier League and Championship games has never been universally applied, as large numbers of fans have simply ignored it.

This has led to repeated calls over the last two decades to scrap the all-seater rule, with many supporters pointing out that if something is safe in Leagues One and Two, Scottish football, other sports and even other events at English football grounds, it should be safe in England's top two football divisions, too.

Many stadium safety experts now agree with this view, which is why the then Sports Minister Tracey Crouch was eventually forced to order a review of the legislation last year.

Fans have continued to hurt themselves in falls in standing areas, often caused by surges pushing them over the back of the seats in front of them.

And this was the subject of a panel discussion during the Sports Grounds Safety Authority's annual conference at Spurs' new stadium on Wednesday, which featured the SGSA's head inspector Ken Scott.

The session was titled 'Is the all-seater policy out of date?' and it started with the compere asking the room of 300 safety experts if they thought it the rules were fine as they are: none did.

But Scott then surprised several present by saying: "Something needs to be done before someone gets seriously injured or even killed."

This comment was tweeted by Jon Darch, a safe-standing campaigner, but Scott replied to say the point he was making was "not a call for legislative change but...a statement in relation to some current fan behaviours".

It's thought clubs are either being advised to follow the examples of Spurs and Wolves, by installing seats with safety barriers to make standing safer or simply close sections of the ground where there is persistent standing.

When asked to clarify his comment, Scott said: "In the panel discussion at the conference, it was acknowledged that standing has led to injuries of fans and that stronger action may be needed to ensure a safe and enjoyable environment for all fans."

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