Football stadiums in the Premier League and Championship will trial safe standing areas this season, with clubs having been invited to take part in an early adopter programme.

Sports Minister Nigel Huddleston has today (Wednesday) instructed the Sports Ground Safety Authority (SGSA) to take the first steps in creating licensed standing areas at clubs in the top two tiers of English football from January 1.

Clubs which are currently subject to the UK government’s all-seater policy have been invited to apply to offer licensed standing areas as part of the early adopter programme. Clubs will have until October 6 to submit an application to the SGSA and, if approved, they will be able to offer licensed standing areas from January 1, 2022.

The Times has reported that Premier League teams Tottenham Hotspur, Wolverhampton Wanderers, Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea, as well as Championship sides Cardiff City and Bristol City, are among the clubs most likely to be first in line for the trials.

Last month, Liverpool announced that the first rail seats had been installed at Anfield’s Kop end, with Chelsea having also fitted rail seating at Stamford Bridge. Manchester United fans were able to sample new rail seating at Old Trafford (pictured) during a friendly match against Brentford in July.

The SGSA said that today’s development marks a “historic announcement” and a “vital step” towards fulfilling the government’s manifesto commitment to introducing safe standing areas at football stadiums.

Clubs will be required to meet a number of criteria in order to receive government and SGSA approval, including the necessary infrastructure being in place such as seats with barriers/independent barriers in both the home and away sections.

Fans must also be able to sit or stand in the licensed area, with the seats not permitted to be locked in the ‘up’ or ‘down’ position. There must also be one space/seat per person.

Additionally, the areas must not impact the viewing standards of other fans, including disabled supporters. There must also be a code of conduct in place for fans in the area, and the stadium must consult with its Safety Advisory Group about plans for the areas.

The areas will be independently evaluated from their introduction in January for the remainder of the 2021-22 season. Other parts of the stadium will remain all-seated and fans will be expected to sit in these areas.

Huddleston said: “We have been clear that we will work with fans and clubs towards introducing safe standing at football grounds providing there was evidence that installing seating with barriers would have a positive impact on crowd safety.

“With independent research now complete, and capacity crowds back at grounds across the country, now is the right time to make progress. I look forward to hearing from clubs who wish to be part of our early adopters programme during the second half of this season.”

Martyn Henderson, chief executive of the SGSA, added: “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. Today’s announcement will enable us to properly test and evaluate licensed standing areas before the government decides its next steps.”

The introduction of the licensed standing areas follows research carried out during the 2019-20 season, which found that seats with barriers/independent barriers helped reduce the safety risks related to persistent standing.

Standing has been outlawed in the top two leagues of English football since the Hillsborough disaster in 1989, which led to the deaths of 97 Liverpool fans.

Image: Manchester United