Football Stadiums and the Law

Are there any requirements in relation to football stadiums within the UK?

Traditionally football stadiums throughout the United Kingdom were made up of terraces whereby fans would go and stand to support their teams. Following on, however, from events during the 1980’s the football terrace was outlawed by law to be replaced by all seater stadiums.

The Hillsborough Disaster

What was the Hillsborough disaster?

During an FA Cup semi-final match in 1989 contested between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest which has held at the Hillsborough Stadium in Sheffield, ninety six Liverpool fans were killed due to overcrowding. 

Unlike the Heysel Stadium disaster four years previous the Hillsborough tragedy did not occur due to hooliganism as there was no violence whatsoever between the two sets of supporters. This incident occurred solely due to congestion.

Thousands of the fans who traveled to the game were late due to the traffic and delays to the railways causing many fans to hurriedly enter the stadium at the same time to avoid missing more of the match.

No entrances were sealed off causing many fans to enter into the same area and no larger gates were opened to redirect fans to safer areas.

What happened following the disaster?

Following the disaster the Home Office set up an enquiry which was run by Lord Justice Taylor beginning on the 15th May 1989 and lasting 31 days. The remit of the enquiry was as follows:

  • To inquire into the events at Sheffield Wednesday Football ground on 15th April 1989
  • To make recommendations about the needs of crowd control and safety at sports event

What were the recommendations following the Taylor Report?

The Taylor Report recommended that all top division stadiums in England and Scotland phase out the usual concrete terraces and have to become all-seater.

Has this recommendation has the desired effect?

Following from the requirement for all top division stadiums becoming all seater millions of pounds has been spent by every top club in both England and Scotland on developing their grounds.

All seater stadiums have become far safer and easier to manage as all spectators are each sold a ticket for a specific seat.

Furthermore the use of all seater stadiums has resulted in cases of football hooliganism decreasing significantly, meaning that incidents of violence within football grounds have become almost non-existent.

Following on from these arrests for football-related crimes have reduced dramatically since the late 1980’s and attendances have steadily been on the increase.

These positives aside many fans feel that the atmosphere within the stadia has greatly decreased following the elimination of terracing.

The Football Spectators Act 1989

What was the Football Spectators Act?

During the 1980’s there was not only disasters at football ground due to over congestion on the terracing there was also disasters in relation to hooliganism and other specific issues with the stadia. The Football Spectators Act was brought in to address the issues caused by the Heysel disaster in 1985 and the fire at Bradford City in 1986.

The main provisions of the Football Spectators Act was to bring in the compulsory distribution of identity cards to every football fan attending league and international matches played in England and Wales.

Under this system it would have been possible to identify any known hooligans and prevent them from entering stadiums.

However, this system received poor figures from the football league clubs with only 13 of the 92 football league clubs implementing it by the requisite date.

This has now been repealed by the Football (Offences and Disorder) Act 1999 which introduced the Football Banning Order as a much more effective tool to combat football hooliganism.

Problems with the Taylor Report

What were the problems with the Taylor Report?

Following on from the publication of the Taylor Report there were many issues which have been criticised which are as follows:

  • No blame was attributed to the FA in the selection of the ground
  • Many felt that blame should have been attributed to the ambulance services
  • Many felt that more blame should have been attributed to the unsuitability of the ground as it had not received its required safety certificate
  • The long lasting outcome form the Taylor Report has been the introduction of all-seater stadiums which has the desired effect as stated above.

What requirements do we currently see in relation to football stadiums?

In the present day following the Taylor Report we see the following legal conditions which must be adhered to for all football stadiums throughout the country:

  • All stadiums must be all seater
  • There must be appropriate segregation of rival sets of supporters
  • There must be appropriate amounts of stewards in specific areas of the stadiums
  • The club security must work in accordance with the Police in providing access to certain areas of the stadium – for example the main control room
  • The smoking ban extends to all areas of a football stadium -Smoke-free (Premises and Enforcement) Regulations
  • No alcohol can be drunk in site of the pitch

Policing at Football Stadiums

The Police were one of the authorities which were widely criticised as part of the Hillsborough disaster and are an integral part of maintaining safety and crowd order in and around a football stadium.

The Police have vast control concerning the safety aspects of football matches and as a consequence will ensure that the two sides from the same city will not both play in the city on the same weekend. For example in Manchester when United play at home City will play away in order to ensure that the match can be properly policed and the resources are not stretched.

Accordingly the police and local authorities have the power to ensure that changes are made to the fixture list in order to achieve this.