Standing Strong: Ken Scott (Head of Inspectorate SGSA) on Implementing Safe Standing and Empowering Fans

The integration of safe standing in European stadiums represents a pivotal shift towards enhancing both safety and fan experience. Ken Scott, Head of Inspectorate at SGSA, emphasizes the importance of listening to fan feedback, underscoring the symbiotic relationship between clubs and supporters. Through proactive measures and empirical evidence, concerns regarding crowd dynamics are addressed, ensuring a balanced approach that prioritizes safety while accommodating diverse fan preferences.

The implementation of safe standing happens with and for fans but a lot of technicalities need to be addressed. ESSMA sat down with Ken Scott, Head of Inspectorate at SGSA, to discuss these technicalities which are clarified in SGSA’s “Safe standing in seated areas” guide. Here’s what we learned about the latest evolution in European stadiums that aims to improve both safety and fan experience.  


I often get the feeling that a lot of fans recognise that they have been listened to and I think that's really important. We can't have football without fans. 


For the fans

ESSMA: What was the role of fans in implementing safe standing and what is the impact of safe standing on fans? 

Ken Scott: I often get the feeling that a lot of fans recognise that they have been listened to and I think that's really important. We can't have football without fans. We found that throughout COVID, football without fans is not the same product. I think that finally through all the work of the Council of Europe, the work that you are doing at ESSMA around promoting that service element it's really beginning to bear fruit now because the comments that I get coming back are that fans are almost kind of self-policing it as well. That's a really good way of empowering people to make them enjoy that facility, but at the same time make sure that nobody disrespects it. 


ESSMA:Do you think that clubs are introducing safe standing because of that fan-driven argument?  

Ken Scott: It was probably a mixture of several things. But from my perspective: I was generally meeting with Chief Executive Officers and Chief Operating Officers to convince them after they had positive feedback from the fans. If there are 10,000 people standing, it won't be 10,000 people that want to stand. It will be a number who want to stand, and it will be a number of people who are standing because they have no option because the person in front is standing. So, it is important to install some rows and see how it goes.  

But equally, we are providing facilities for people to be still within that area, for those people who can't (for whatever reason) stand. You’ll likely also have some kids, and they can stand when they want to stand, but equally they can sit if they can't stand for that whole duration of the event. And that's why one of the key criteria that I have built into the requirement is that the seats must always be available. They can't be locked. The seat must always be there for those people that need it. We often find that before the game, people will be sitting on the seats. Then the activity starts, people stand up, and at half time they sit down again, they chat with friends, have a coffee and then the action starts again for the second half, and they all stand up. It seems to work really well this way. 

The first projects and learnings  

ESSMA:What did you learn from the safe standing pilot project that was held with a select group of clubs in England?  

Ken Scott:We learned a couple of things. At first, I was worried about the risks arising from progressive crowd collapse. Often there were more people standing than sitting. My worries weren't helped by the evidence. We saw cases from across Europe and within the UK with progressive crowd collapses. I was quite pleased that the change in legislation was actually proactive rather than reactive.  

We are still working with a number of clubs that still do have persistent standing problems. But we are in a position now, since the submission of this data and this evidence, that we are all sitting on building knowledge, not just in the UK, but around Europe. The evidence proves that given these certain conditionsminimum levels of force are needed. A progressive crowd collapse can be invoked in many different waysNot just the stadiums with the steepest gradient, because the quantity of people involved is very important. Obviously, gradient does have an impact. But the progressive crowd collapse is quite easy to invoke in a big crowd, and therefore the introduction of the rails helped to prevent this.  

We also discovered that, contrary to the criticisms we sometimes received from local police, the concern that our activities would attract a demographic of fans resistant to authority and likely to disregard ground regulations, potentially increasing instances of antisocial behaviour and crowd disorder, proved to be quite unfounded. We have not seen that. It's been the constant demographic, which includes females and families, which is great because that was what I always forecast, that these aren't new, exclusive areas of standing that we are creating, what we are doing is providing protection in areas of grounds were standing already happens.  

The other element that we found was the way in which safety management teams were able to adapt to it. We have got lots of feedback now where safety management teams feel it's a lot more comfortable to work in those areas now because they are not facing the conflict of asking people to sit down. But we are also seeing that people leaving the venue , are now leaving in a more orderly fashion. They are leaving row by row, which means that you aren't getting large accumulations of people around the head of a vomitory or an exit from the seating accommodation and that has actually speeded up the exiting process. 

A Maximum capacity on safe standing? 

ESSMA: Is there something to be said in terms of possible advice for a maximum capacity in safe standing in regards to the total capacity of a stadium? 

Ken Scott:We did not do that because we came from the angle that it was about diminishing the risk. If you have a venue and 50% of the people are standing, then that's the area at which you need to be looking. Now accepting my previous point that not everyone within that 50% will want to stand, what we did not want to do was set a hypothetical level. We were quite adamant as well that we would only allow the sale of the seats based on one seat equating to one standing space. I know that this has caused a little bit of concern because clearly on the continent, we see kind of multiplying factors where people can go above that normal seated capacity. But again, for a lot of the sensitivities arising from Hillsborough and from the difficulties of managing crowds, when you get more than one person per seat in the row, it becomes really difficult to prevent migration and the difficulties that might arise from that in terms of spectator safety. We have been resistant, and we continue to be resistant to prevent going beyond.  

 

ESSMA: For those migration purposes, do you have advice based on how wide the row should be and how wide the seat should be as well?  

Ken Scott:The guidance document by SGSA on “safe standing in seated areas” , which is freely available on our website, is a safe standing document that sets out the minimum space required per person. We’ve set that figure at a minimum of 0.2 meters squared per person. So that dictates the area, the clearway that you need after the fitting of the rail seat or the independent bar, whatever that might be. It is possible, technically and mathematically, to prove that you could get more than one person per seat if you have got a club that's got a particularly wide seating row depth and maybe choose to use a very narrow seating unit. But again, for the difficulties that would be caused in terms of the safety management of those numbers, we are resisting the increase beyond one for one. But I do accept, and I have witnessed and seen scenarios of Germany where legitimately you can prove the case for more than one for one. But at this point in time within England and Wales, it is a step too far. 

 

 

Posted on 05/04/2024 in: