Shaun Harvey, chief executive of the English Football League (EFL), the organising body for the second, third and fourth tiers of club soccer in England, has said that safe standing could be introduced in the country’s top two leagues by the 2020/21 season.
Safe standing has been outlawed in the top two tiers since 1994 in line with the 1989 Football Spectators Act. The legislation was introduced following recommendations made in the Taylor Report into the 1989 Hillsborough Disaster, in which 96 Liverpool fans died.
However, parliament will this month stage an official debate on the matter on 25th June after 100,000 fans signed a petition calling for the Premier League and the Championship to introduce safe standing.
Ahead of the debate, the government has also opened talks with the Premier League and EFL on the issue, while the EFL has released a video to promote its stance that clubs should be allowed to decide whether to introduce standing or not.
Harvey has said he expects a vote to take place within 12 months on whether the existing legislation should be changed.
“We don’t want the debate to be lost around a return to 20,000 capacity terraces and this figure would allow disorder issues to be resolved,” Harvey said. “This is not a safety issue as 22 stadiums in the EFL already have standing. And it is not about promoting rail seating over terracing as that is a choice which has to be made at local level.
“It is about standing shoulder to shoulder with government to deliver what the fans want. I will be disappointed if by this time next year there has not been significant movement on this issue.”
The EFL also wants to put a cap of 7,500 on the capacity of any terraced area, although clubs could have more than one area should local safety officials allow it.
Harvey also said that “single numbers” of clubs would be keen to introduce safe standing straight away should current laws be changed, but many teams had not yet considered it.
West Brom, who were relegated from the Premier League last season, had a proposal to introduce safe standing at The Hawthorns rejected by the government in April.
However, in May, League One outfit Shrewsbury Town became the first EFL club to install rail seats at their ground.