Premier League grounds to trial standing areas in January

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Football fansImage source, Reuters

Some of England's leading football clubs will permit some fans to stand while watching matches from 1 January, the government has announced.

Premier League and Championship clubs have until 6 October to apply to become "early adopters" in a pilot scheme.

This would mean some fans are allowed to rise to their feet for long spells for the first time in 27 years.

The move follows the introduction of safe areas for standing at top-flight football in Germany and Scotland.

The Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats all went into the last election with a pledge to update the ban that was introduced in the wake of the Hillsborough disaster in 1989, in which a crush led to the deaths of 97 Liverpool supporters.

Thousands of fans around England have continued to stand throughout matches, despite the legislation in place.

Under the latest plans, Premier League and Championship clubs can apply to set up licensed areas in which fans can sit or stand.

To get permission they will have to prove they have seats in place with waist-high barriers for supporters to lean on, to prevent crushes.

Standing fans must also not impede the views of others, while a code of conduct must be agreed to prevent bad behaviour.

The licensed areas will remain in place until the end of the 2021/22 season, when they will be reassessed.

Sports Minister Nigel Huddleston said there was evidence that installing seating with barriers "would have a positive impact on crowd safety".

"With independent research now complete, and capacity crowds back at grounds across the country, now is the right time to make progress," he added.

"I look forward to hearing from clubs who wish to be part of our early adopters programme during the second half of this season."

Martyn Henderson, chief executive of the Sports Grounds Safety Authority, which is overseeing the programme, said its focus was "the safety and enjoyment of all fans at sports grounds".

Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea have all installed rails next to seating over the summer in anticipation of the scheme.