Football stadiums and the law

Legal requirements surrounding football stadiums in the UK

Traditionally football stadiums throughout the UK were made up of terraces, whereby fans would go and stand to support their teams. Following various disasters during the 1980s however, the football terrace in the upper echelons of English football was outlawed to be replaced by all-seated stadiums.

The Hillsborough disaster

What was the Hillsborough disaster?

During an FA Cup semi-final match between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest at the Hillsborough Stadium in Sheffield in 1989, 96 Liverpool fans were killed due to overcrowding.

Thousands of the fans who had travelled to the game were late due to the traffic and delays to the railways. Consequently, many fans hurriedly entered 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.

The Taylor Report

Following the disaster, the Home Office set up an enquiry headed by Lord Justice Taylor. The remit of the enquiry was to:

  • inquire into the events at Sheffield Wednesday Football ground on 15 April 1989;
  • make recommendations about the needs of crowd control and safety at sporting events.

The Taylor Report recommended that all top division stadiums in England phase out the usual concrete terraces and become all-seated. This was subsequently adopted for the top two divisions of the English league (now the Premiership and the Championship). Clubs promoted to the Championship for the first time have three years to convert their ground to all-seated.

Has this recommendation has the desired effect?

Millions of pounds have been spent by England’s top clubs on developing their grounds and the top two divisions all now have all-seated grounds.

All-seated stadiums are far safer and easier to manage as all spectators are each sold a ticket for a specific seat. The use of all-seated stadiums has also resulted in cases of football hooliganism decreasing significantly.

Positives aside though, many fans feel the atmosphere within the stadia has greatly decreased following the elimination of terracing.

Although the top two divisions of English football are legally required to have all-seated stadiums, it is not actually illegal for fans to stand at football matches. Standing in seated areas, is, however, contrary to ground regulations, and clubs have the power to evict persistent standers.

The Football Spectators Act 1989

During the 1980s there was not only disasters at football grounds due to congestion on the terracing, there was also disasters in relation to hooliganism and other issues. The Football Spectators Act 1989 (FSA 1989) was brought in to address the issues caused by the Heysel disaster in 1985 and the fire at Bradford City in 1986.

FSA 1989 required 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.

Requirements for football stadiums

Nowadays, the following conditions must be adhered to by all football stadiums throughout the country:

  • Premiership and Championship stadiums must be all-seated;
  • there must be appropriate segregation of rival sets of supporters;
  • there must be appropriate amounts of stewards in specific areas of the stadiums;
  • there must be adequate car-parking at or near the ground;
  • access for emergency services should be provided;
  • there should be adequate toilet facilities;
  • all clubs must provide first aid equipment at their ground;
  • all dressing rooms for players and match officials must be secure and suitable for purpose;
  • all exits must be clearly signposted and where fixed exit points are provided, there must be sufficient to ensure the safe evacuation of the ground if necessary;
  • the smoking ban extends to all areas of a football stadium – Smoke-free (Premises and Enforcement) Regulation 2006;
  • no alcohol can be drunk in sight of the pitch.

Ground regulations

Most English football clubs will have a standard set of ground regulations governing the types of objects and spectator behaviour that will and will not be tolerated in the ground on a match day. It is up to the clubs to make their own rules, but most will include a ban on:

  • alcohol being brought into the ground;
  • possession of knives, fireworks, flares, smoke bombs, air horns, flags, banners or anything likely to cause harm;
  • violent disorder;
  • racist chanting;
  • coin or bottle throwing;
  • going onto the field of play without authority;
  • drunkenness;
  • abusive behaviour towards players, match officials or stewards.

Policing at football stadiums

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 to ensure the match can be properly policed and resources are not stretched.

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