Sheffield United: Why EFL chief Shaun Harvey is targeting safe-standing sections at Bramall Lane "within two years"

English Football League chief executive Shaun Harvey believes clubs in the Championship - including Sheffield United - and Premier League should be allowed to provide legal standing sections within two years.

Wednesday, 20th June 2018, 1:28 pm
Updated Wednesday, 20th June 2018, 1:36 pm
Bramall Lane

Speaking to reporters on the day the league released a new video that explains its position on the debate, Harvey welcomed the Government's recent announcement that it was willing to review the all-seater requirement for English football's top two divisions but said it was clear that clubs and fans want choice and the law must change.

Last month, the EFL and Football Supporters' Federation (FSF) commissioned a survey that revealed more than nine in 10 supporters want the option to stand at football matches, two in three would prefer to stand and nearly one in two would attend more games if standing was officially allowed.

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The two-in-three number is higher than several previous surveys conducted on this topic but the figure of at least 90 per cent backing the choice has been steady for more than a decade.

Despite this, in April, sports minister Tracey Crouch rejected a request from West Brom to pilot a safe-standing section next season and then said only a "vocal minority" want to stand.

That position became untenable when an online petition for a change in the law passed 100,000 signatures, forcing Crouch to call a parliamentary debate on the matter next Monday. And since then, Labour has publicly backed safe-standing and the Premier League has called for a review, too.

"I will be disappointed if we haven't got to a point that by this time next year there hasn't been significant movement on this and by that I mean a (parliamentary) vote on the matter within 12 months," said Harvey.

Asked if this could mean the all-seater requirement is dropped in time for the start of the 2019/20 season, Harvey said: "That might be a bit of a stretch because you would need some time for implementation but certainly for the start of the 2020/21 season, that would be realistic.

"And there would be an immediate benefit because promoted clubs with licensed standing areas would not have to install seats."

This last point is fundamental to the EFL's position on the current rules, which were brought in after the 1989 Hillsborough disaster: next season there will be 22 EFL clubs, in all three divisions, with legal standing areas, so the rule cannot be justified on safety grounds.

"In our view, it's not a safety issue, as any form of licensed standing has to be compliant with the (Sports Grounds Safety Authority's) Green Guide, so, by definition, it's safe as 22 clubs have satisfied this requirement," said Harvey.

He explained the EFL was "agnostic" on the various safe-standing options - Bundesliga-style rail seats, updated terraces, managed standing in seated areas and so on - but strongly believed this decision should be made locally, by those who best "understand the dynamics of the ground and those who use it".

In effect, this is the Labour policy of allowing clubs and their local safety advisory groups to make the appropriate decision for each stadium.

Harvey added that the EFL believes a maximum limit of 7,500 standing spaces per "area", not stadium, would be sensible as he did not believe there is an appetite for returning to the pre-Hillsborough days of more than 20,000 fans standing on a terrace.