Standing will be allowed in Premier League and Championship stadiums for the first time in more than 25 years after the Government finally approved a pilot of safe standing in England and Wales.
But only those clubs whose grounds have been adapted to accommodate so-called rail seating – including Manchester United, Liverpool, Chelsea, Manchester City, Tottenham Hotspur, West Ham United, Wolverhampton Wanderers, Cardiff City and Bristol City – will be able to take part in the trial, which will begin on January 1.
The Sports Ground Safety Authority (SGSA), which will oversee the pilot, also announced that anyone applying for what it called an “early adopter” programme would need to provide standing areas to both home and away fans.
Telegraph Sport has been told that, currently, only Spurs, City and potentially West Ham would qualify under that provision for league matches, with other clubs needing either to install new rail seats – seating with barriers in front to prevent spectators falling – or move their away end to a different part of their ground.
More teams, such as Chelsea, could qualify for FA Cup and Carabao Cup ties, in which away supporters are given a larger allocation of tickets.
Standing was banned at clubs in the top two divisions of English football in the wake of the Hillsborough disaster, which prompted the introduction of all-seater stadiums in 1994.
But thousands of fans regularly defy the ban – which is often impossible for teams to police properly – and there has long been a campaign for them to be accommodated more safely.
Rail seating has worked successfully in Germany for years, while there has been a safe-standing section at Celtic since 2016.
The Government’s last general election manifesto in 2019 promised to work towards the introduction of safe-standing areas and, after the coronavirus crisis prevented it doing so last season, it has finally delivered on that pledge.
The SGSA said clubs had just two weeks, until October 6, to submit an application to be an early adopter.
Sports minister Nigel Huddleston said: “We have been clear that we will work with fans and clubs towards introducing safe standing at football grounds providing 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. 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 SGSA, said: “The focus of the SGSA is the safety and enjoyment of all fans at sports grounds. We know many fans want the choice to stand and, with the advent of new engineering solutions, our research has shown how this can be managed safely. Today’s announcement will enable us to properly test and evaluate licensed standing areas before the Government decides its next steps.”
Kevin Miles, chief executive of the Football Supporters’ Association and longstanding Safe Standing campaigner, said: “We are beyond delighted to finally claim a win for the FSA’s Safe Standing campaign after extra-time, penalties and more than a few replays and postponements!
“Too many people to mention have worked tirelessly for so long to bring about today’s news. Those people know who they are and we look forward to having a well-deserved beer or two over the next few weeks and months. Who knows, we may even take in a match from a standing area.”
Jon Darch, who runs the Safe Standing Roadshow, said: “It’s a great next step, which will hopefully lead to all clubs soon being allowed to give supporters a choice of watching the game sitting down or standing up.”