“Week after week, safety officers and stadium managers face problems from large groups of fans who persistently stand in seated areas. Such spectators block the gangways, obstruct the view and are difficult to steward. In some grounds, the fans even stand on the seats. Persistent standing commands widespread attention from various stakeholders, including politicians, governing bodies, law enforcement and fan organisations. There is also debate about the separate but related issue of ‘safe standing’. This stems from campaigns to allow the installation of ‘rail seating’ in all-seated grounds.” Steve Frosdick ESSMA 2012
This quote from Professor Steve Frosdick was 6 years ago! So what has changed?
I recently attended the SGSA Annual conference at the magnificent 55,000 capacity all seating Etihad Stadium in Manchester. There was a lively debate on the issue. In the room were Safety Officers and Stadium Managers from prominent Premiership Clubs from across the UK discussing and counselling for change.
Nearly 30 years after the widespread introduction of all-seating football stadiums, the reality is that a large majority of fan groups from clubs up and down the country have not adapted. Is this because of tradition and culture? If you spoke to a football fan today, what would they say to you about why they want to stand? Of course a lot of the time people will stand up to celebrate a goal, berate the referee for not awarding a penalty, chant and sing with everyone else. Sometimes, it becomes more adversarial and directed towards rivals who support ‘the other team’. Standing up forces everyone behind them to do so. Perhaps even, fans choose to stand in protest against the regulations.
Legalities of standing
The legislation relating to standing in football grounds derives from section 11 of the Football Spectators Act 1989. “The Secretary of State may, by order, direct the licensing authority to include in any license to admit spectators to any specified premises a condition imposing requirements as respects the seating of spectators at designated football matches at the premises; and it shall be the duty of the authority to comply with the direction.
So, is standing up in a seated area illegal? Actually no! The legislation only provides that clubs should provide seats for all spectators, not that they should sit in them. Of course there may be ground regulations that prohibit standing other than in moments of excitement. So persistent standing may only be a breach of contract between the ticket holder and the club.
During the time a spectator spends inside a stadium there are many occasions when standing is permitted. Such as arrival and finding your seat. Half time for refreshments and going to the toilet. Vacating your seat at the end of the match (or slightly earlier if your team are losing!) and leaving the stadium. So the issues have to be around spectator safety, when crowds persistently stand up together.
Is persistent standing unsafe?
The SGSA at their annual conference expressed concern about the safety issues and led a workshop to air these concerns, so as to seek solutions within current regulations. It can be argued that a seating area is not designed for standing, the seat backs are too low to restrain a fall from behind, which could lead to a progressive crowd collapse, such as at Amiens v Lille match in 2017 (no seating).
There is also the worry about gangways being obstructed and fans falling off their seats. Pressure is applied to Stadium Safety Management to ‘Do something about it!’ and ‘Make them sit down!’
As far back as 2002 the (then) Football Licensing Authority issued a report referring to the risks and found that, “The risk of such falls and the likelihood of a cascading effect increase along with the gradient of the seating deck. The majority of upper tiers and many single and lower tiers have gradients above the 25º that the Guide to Safety at Sports Grounds (the Green Guide) considers safe for any standing accommodation, even where this is equipped with crush barriers to the highest standard. Indeed many seating decks, particularly on upper tiers, have gradients close to the recommended safety maximum for seating of 34º. Standing in a seated area with such a gradient must by definition be treated as unsafe.”
So by definition it would be safe with suitable crush barriers to stand where the gradient of the deck was less than 25º .
In the same year, WS Atkins prepared a report for Trafford Borough Council. This looked at persistent standing at Manchester United’s Old Trafford stadium. The report concluded that the most dangerous time for fans to be standing was at moments of excitement, such as when a goal is scored. The next most dangerous time was on egress when fans were leaving the stadium. The least dangerous time was passive standing during normal play.
What is the Government’s stance?
Ultimately the Government have the power to change the legislation that prohibits standing in the top two divisions of football in England and Wales. The Department of Culture, Media and Sport’s view is:
“We accept that some supporters miss the tradition, character and history of some of our former grounds and many are in favour of the return of standing areas. It is generally accepted, however, that the majority of football grounds are safer and more comfortable than they were twenty years ago.
“Before any change in the legislation, there would have to be a very clear demand, as well as very clear evidence that any such change meets stringent safety standards, presented from all the relevant authorities responsible for stadium safety, including the police, as well as it being clear that this is something that all parties want.”
Associated Risks and how to mitigate them
In his 2002 report Professor Steven Frosdick proposed three policy propositions:
First, that persistent standing in seated stands with angles of rake above 34º must be inherently unsafe. Spectator groups who risk assessment shows are likely to persistently stand must not be accommodated in such areas.
Second is that persistent standing in seated stands with angles of rake between 26º and 34º may be inherently unsafe. Spectator groups who risk assessment shows are likely to persistently stand should only be accommodated in such areas on a balance of risks basis, for example when it is essential to use an upper tier to keep high risk fan groups segregated from one another.
Third and perhaps more controversial proposition is that persistent standing in seated stands with angles of rake below 26º is NOT inherently unsafe. It is less dangerous than standing at times of high excitement and standing during egress. It follows that it is poor practice to seek to require spectators to sit down at all times. This spoils people’s enjoyment and brings stewards into unnecessary conflict with supporters. Notwithstanding the ground regulations, persistent standing in seated stands with angles of rake below 26º may be tolerated, providing that the associated safety, security and service risks are properly managed.
Calculating a safe standing area
Fans who are persistently standing take up more room than fans who are sitting down (typically 550mm rather than 460mm per person, according to the 2002 FLA report). There is therefore a risk of lateral migration into the gangways and vomitories. Blocked gangways and vomitories pose a safety risk because they inhibit both routine and emergency access by medical services, stewards and police. They also pose a service risk as they make it more difficult for fans to move in and out to use the concourse facilities. There is also some evidence that persistently standing fans can pose security problems. According to the 2002 FLA report, “While there is no automatic correlation between standing in seated areas and misbehaviour, there is evidence that some groups of standing spectators regularly adopt a hostile attitude to stewards and to the authorities generally. This can make it harder to tackle offensive conduct such as racist chanting or obscene language. Even where this does not lead to misbehaviour, standing spectators may not be in the mood to comply with reasonable requests (in particular to keep the gangways and exits clear) that may be for their own safety.”
Left unmanaged, this hostile attitude can and does lead to anarchy in the stands.
As well as blocking access to concourse facilities, persistently standing fans pose other customer service problems. Children who find it difficult to stand for long periods and those who simply do not wish to stand are all forced to do so in order to have a view. Depending on the location of their space, disabled patrons may have their view obstructed.
This provides a ‘fall zone’ and a lateral working corridor for staff. Stewards should always be deployed to patrol the vomitories and gangways to keep them clear at all times.
At the SGSA conference it was even put forward that the S factor of a stand could be reduced if persistent standing was not reduced. So if a particular Clubs’ away support were identified as persistently standing, then less tickets would be sold.
What for the future?
I think it is widely recognised and acknowledged that significant improvements have been made to the infrastructure of football stadia and the safety management of spectators over the last 30 years.
There is an absolute requirement to keep gangways and vomitories clear. This can be achieved through a combination of ticket sales controls and stewarding. In a typical row of 14 seats, to prevent lateral migration, the end two seats in each section could not be sold. (14 people sitting take up 14 x 460mm = 6,440mm of space. 12 people standing take up 12 x 550mm = 6,600mm of space). The front two rows of any upper tier could not be sold and netted. Here is an example from MK Dons upper tier:
Safe standing must be debated and consulted widely. The SGSA are making a start but not going far enough. We need a voice from the Football Supporter’s Federation, Clubs, Police, Fire, Safety Officers, Government and supporters to contribute. How is safe standing managed in Europe and below the Championship ?
Also meaningful investigation and study of the safety issues as they are now and the proper solutions that are in place elsewhere in Europe and have been trialed here in the UK.
I will leave you with an invitation to read this link news article from the telegraph newspaper.