The Liberal Democrats commit to reform health and safety laws to allow Premier league and Championship football clubs to introduce safe standing facilities as part of their 2015 General Election manifesto.
After the Hillsborough Disaster of April 1989, the Football Spectators Act 1989 required safety authorities to ensure that fans attending games in England's top two divisions are seated. This was introduced following Lord Justice Taylor’s report, where he commented: “There is no panacea which will achieve total safety and cure all problems of behaviour and crowd control. But I am satisfied that seating does more to achieve those objectives than any other single measure.”
While this works well in theory, the practice in all-seater stadium around the country remains one of persistent standing. As a result, there are whole sections of stadiums designed for sitting which are occupied by people who choose to stand. In response to this, the Football Supporters Federation (FSF) launched a campaign for “safe standing” areas. The solution proffered is: “rail seating”.
Rail seating is a seat that is attached to a rail or barrier. Rail seating offers a flexible solution for clubs who still wish to install standing sections to lock the seat in an upright position and fans to stand leaning against a barrier. Alternatively, the seats can be unlocked to comply with the all-seater stadium rules, as and when required. Rail seats have been tried and tested in many football grounds across Europe including in Germany, Austria and Sweden.
The Football League has also lobbied for a change in legislation, given that a number of its 72 clubs would like to implement standing in their grounds. The chief executive of the Football League commented: "We recognise that this is an extremely emotive issue and that significant change isn't necessarily going to happen overnight. However, a logical first step would be for safe standing products, such as rail-seating, to be licensed for use by the relevant authorities…This would give everybody greater insight into the use of this type of accommodation and help take the debate forward in a cautious and responsible manner, as it would not require any changes to the existing law as these clubs are already permitted to have fans standing at their matches."
In Scotland, the Scottish Premiership clubs are also strong backers of safe standing. However, Celtic's application to install a section of rail seating was rejected by Glasgow City Council earlier this month.
Safety in football stadium, and at any sporting venue where crowds gather en masse, has been a focus for many years and the proposals are no relaxation of the requirement to maintain a high level of health and safety at all sporting events.