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Last week the Government confirmed that it would making good on its manifesto commitment to finally reform the all-seater legislation allowing standing sections in both the Premier League and Championship.
Sports minister Nigel Adams said the Government is “keen to deliver” on its pledge with a view to trialing standing sections from as early as next season.
The Government has instructed the Sports Ground Safety Authority (SGSA) to produce a new report ahead of any legislation coming to Parliament.
SGSA inspectors will visit several grounds in the top two divisions over the course of the rest of the season and report back to the Department of Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS).
“I am looking forward to having the SGSA interim report and once I get that report, we will be able to consider the evidence,” said Adams, in a recent national newspaper interview.
“We need to be guided by the evidence and be mindful of everyone; the fans, the Hillsborough families. Clearly, the most important thing is the safety of fans and people at grounds.”
The SGSA’s work follows on from a Government report published back in October that said more research into standing was needed. The report was published after football fans had signed a House of Commons petition to reignite the discussion on standing at football, which ended with a debate in parliament in 2018.
Premier League clubs have long been confident that change would come in the government’s outlook, with a couple of example of clubs future-fitting their stadiums in preparation.
Last summer Wolverhampton Wanderers installed more than 5,000 rail seats in the south stand at Molineux, becoming the first Premier League club to retrofit rail-seating type accommodation into an existing stand. Tottenham Hotspur also installed seats with barriers at their new stadium last season.
The Football Supporters’ Association (FSA) have stated that they hope the examples of Wolves and Spurs will give decision makers a chance to observe a large installation of rail seats at the highest level of the game, to provide the data to now fast-track the reform of the all-seater legislation, after a long drawn out process over the years.
The FSA expressed the view in the recent Premier League club rep meeting that MOMS attended, there was a concern over a ‘one size fits all approach’, and preferred clubs to find a solution that suits them. The notions of introducing a graded cost to a SGSA license fee (currently a flat one across all clubs) and better fan representation on local Safety Advisory Group (SAGS) meetings were considered both to be potentially positive steps.
Aston Villa had originally offered to trial such standing sections eight years ago, but have gone quiet on the issue in recent seasons. In the last Fan Consultation Group meeting with Christian Purslow though, he reaffirmed the club’s commitment, even though there wasn’t any precise details on how quickly the club would implement any standing sections.
‘We very much support the introduction of safe standing and hope that a change in legislation will provide us with the opportunity of giving fans the choice to sit or stand at Villa Park. When we can, we want to be at the forefront and ready to implement.’
The good news is though, the government now seems to see the need to finally get this sorted.
The Sports Minster, concluded in his recent interview: “I will take a decision when we have managed to analyse what the SGSA has said, but we are very keen to deliver on it.
“We need to consider the report but we will act on it quickly.”