Safe standing: General Election 2019 - what do the main parties say about standing at football?

Tottenham's new stadium has seating areas that have been "future-proofed for safe standing"
Tottenham's new stadium has seating areas that have been "future-proofed for safe standing"

As this week's General Election campaigning reaches its conclusion, the merits of football stadia aren't top of the politics agenda.

But - for the first time - introducing safe standing is in the manifestos of the three main political parties.

Here's the latest on the issue.

What's the background?

Standing in English football's top two tiers is illegal after recommendations made following the 1989 Hillsborough disaster, which resulted in the deaths of 96 Liverpool fans.

But the Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats have all referenced it directly in their 2019 General Election manifestos.

Standing is currently allowed in League One and League Two and several top-flight clubs are exploring the possibility.

The Football Association, Premier League and EFL have all said they would support clubs choosing to implement safe standing if local authorities allow it.

Tottenham's new stadium has "safe seating" which has been "future-proofed" for the potential introduction of standing, while Wolves installed rail seating at their Molineux ground in the summer.

Manchester United said in September they were looking into the feasibility of rail seating at Old Trafford, while Everton have plans for safe-standing areas when their new stadium is built.

Scotland is not bound by the law which banned standing areas in England and Celtic became the first Premiership side to introduce a rail seating area, for the 2016-17 season, after being granted permission Glasgow City Council.

So what do the political parties say?

Conservatives:

Manifesto says: "Will work with fans and clubs towards introducing safe standing."

The BBC contacted the Conservative Party for more information regarding plans for the introduction of safe standing but has not received a response.

Labour:

Manifesto says: "We will regulate safe standing in stadiums."

Rosena Allin-Khan, Labour's shadow sports minister, told BBC Sport: "We want to give the power to fans, clubs and local safety authorities, to allow for a small area inside a stadium to be designated for safe standing. Clubs, fans and local authorities know their stadiums best. We will give them the power to decide on safe-standing areas.

"This is about safety. The current system isn't working, people are standing in unsafe seated areas, and accidents can happen. We will allow the installation of specialised rail seating where appropriate, or standing in current seated areas where it can be made safe to do so.

"The extensive data from surveys provided by the EFL and fans' groups clearly show that fans want safe standing introduced.

Liberal Democrats:

Manifesto says: "Move towards introducing 'safe standing' at football clubs, requiring the Sports Grounds Safety Authority to prepare guidance for implementing this change."

In a statement, the party said: "Safe standing is allowed in many other sports and Liberal Democrats don't believe that the top level of football should be an exemption. It offers more choice, a better atmosphere and cheaper tickets for fans.

"Modern safe standing, using 'rail seating', operates successfully across Europe. It is now being introduced at Wolves to tackle persistent standing by some fans. Unlike the old football terraces, supporters would be allocated a designated area to stand."

What do the fans say?

Supporters are generally in favour of introducing safe standing in Premier League and Championship grounds, with 94% of 33,000 who responded to an EFL survey last year saying they should be allowed to choose whether they want to stand or sit at games.

Malcolm Clarke, chair of the Football Supporters' Association, told BBC Sport: "We're looking at what the party manifestos offer supporters across a range of issues - grassroots football, transport, better governance, diversity issues and, of course, standing.

"It's encouraging to see all the major political parties backing standing at football. There's been real progress in recent years, and we look forward to the next government, whichever party that happens to be, working with the football authorities to help make it happen."

The decisions by Manchester United and Everton to explore the possibility of safe standing were welcomed by their respective supporters' groups.

Liverpool have historically said their supporters' position on the issue is "uniquely complex". Fans who visited Celtic's stadium to witness safe standing in action last year said they found the experience "overwhelmingly positive".

A petition calling for the introduction of safe standing signed by more than 112,000 people in 2018 prompted then sports minister Tracey Crouch to commission an official review.

When could it be introduced?

In October, a government-commissioned report said more evidence was required before safe standing could be adopted.

The means it will not be trialled in England's top two leagues this season, despite the report suggesting controlled tests would have value.

The Sports Ground Safety Authority will look into how safe standing is implemented at British and European clubs, and how persistent standing is managed elsewhere.

So it means safe standing may not come into force until at least 2021, as once evidence has been gathered there is likely to be a public consultation, meaning it could be 2022 before safe standing might be introduced.