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Fans will be allowed to stand at the new Wembley for the first time from next season, after the government approved safe-standing areas at football grounds.
The sports minister, Nigel Huddleston, has confirmed that clubs are now able to apply for permanent safe-standing licences, and the national stadium is among those grounds where licences have been granted after successful trials. Huddleston said he hoped the new technology would help to prevent further disorder of the kind that has disrupted matches over the last year.
“We’re very pleased that we will be expanding safe standing,” Huddleston said. “It’s a big day for football, it’s a big day for fans, because this is not the old terraces, this is a very different world and safety is at the heart of it. It’s one space per person, with a seat should people wish to sit down, but with those barriers behind and in front of them.
“The vast majority of football fans behave very well and this is about about fan choice; being able to experience the game in the way that you want to.”
Queens Park Rangers, Wolves and Brentford will join Wembley in introducing safe-standing areas in 2022-23, alongside the clubs who participated in trials: Tottenham Hotspur, Manchester City, Chelsea, Manchester United and Cardiff City. Eight grounds across England’s top two divisions and Wembley will have licences, although the Sports Ground Safety Authority expects that number to grow quickly.
Wembley’s safe-standing area will initially incorporate two areas of 1,000 seats each, behind both goals. The nature of the licence – which extends only to domestic games – means that although the seating will be in place for England’s match against Germany in September, it will not be used until February’s Carabao Cup final.
Huddleston said that developments in safe standing go hand in hand with a greater focus on disorder in grounds. The Football Association and England’s domestic leagues are expected to announce crackdowns on pitch invasions and the use of pyrotechnics before the season, and are also understood to be asking broadcasters to stop using footage of fans letting off flares. The sports minister said the structure of safe standing would act as a possible deterrent to anti-social behaviour.
“There’s a lot of people who are wary about going into grounds because of behaviour that is, quite frankly, despicable”, he said. “But we’ve got evolution in stadia and technology. Safe standing will actually enhance CCTV footage: we’ll know exactly who’s at every single seat, every single area. The physical infrastructure makes it quite difficult to move backwards and forwards or climb over a seat. Technology is improving all the time, but I want to see more aggressive implementation of banning orders as well.”