Safe standing could be introduced in the top two tiers of English football by next year after research found it had a ‘positive impact on spectator safety’.
As revealed by Sportsmail, the Sports Grounds Safety Authority (SGSA) have compiled an interim report into their season-long study on the safety risks of standing in stadiums.
The findings show the installation of barriers in seated areas at football grounds – such as the new Tottenham Hotspur Stadium and Wolves’ Molineux – has ‘mitigated the risk of crowd collapse’.
All-seater stadiums have been mandatory in the top two divisions of English football since 1994, after recommendations made in the Taylor Report in the wake of the 1989 Hillsborough disaster.
But the latest report has been welcomed by the government, who are keen to deliver on their manifesto pledge of bringing in safe standing.
Sports Minister Nigel Adams said: ‘Over a million people watch live football at a ground every week and, having spoken to fans across the country, I know that safe standing is an issue many feel passionately about.
‘As we made clear in our election manifesto, we will work with fans and clubs towards introducing safe standing at football grounds.
‘However, it is imperative that football remains as safe as it has become over the past 25 years.’
The government will wait until the final report is published in the summer before pushing through a change in legislation, but sources insist it could be introduced in time for the 2021-22 season.
Peter Daykin, the head of the Football Supporters’ Association Stand Up For Choice campaign, said: ‘We’re getting ever closer to seeing licensed standing areas return to clubs across the Premier League and Championship.
‘It’s entirely appropriate that the minister and SGSA take all the time they need to deliver the choice to stand safely and in a way that solves the issues caused by the all-seater legislation.
‘Standing areas give supporters choice in how they watch football, but also reduce tension between fans and stewards, and improve the atmosphere in football grounds across the country.
‘More than ever before, politicians and the football authorities now share those beliefs.’
The report observed ‘very little conflict’ as a result of standing in areas containing barriers and found that during high-profile matches fans were more likely to stand. SGSA chief executive Martyn Henderson added: ‘Our research is providing new insights into the positive impact that installing seats with barriers can have on crowd safety.
‘The research is ongoing and we will publish the final report at the end of the season. In the meantime, we will work closely with the government on the implementation of its manifesto commitment to introduce safe standing.’
An EFL spokesperson added: ‘The EFL is encouraged by the direction of travel being taken on what remains an important issue for the League and its membership.’