21 September 2016

The humble plastic folding seat is more than just a place to rest your legs during a sporting event, it provides a ‘safe zone’ around which you have personal space. Seating arrangements can also help ground staff monitor movements more easily. Following the tragic events of Hillsborough and the subsequent Lord Justice Taylor's report, since August 1994, all clubs in the Premiership and Championship have been required to provide all seated accommodation.

There is no panacea which will achieve total safety and cure all problems of behaviour and crowd control. But I am satisfied that seating does more to achieve those objectives than any other single measure.

Lord Justice Taylor


Risk assessment

The most dangerous times within a stadium will be the movement to and from the seat. Even in today’s seated stadiums, the crowds usually rise to their feet when ever a goal is scored, lean forward to see a corner kick and (hopefully) jump up and down in exhilaration when the ball goes into the back of the net. Persistent standing however by spectators in seated areas raises significant safety, crowd management and customer care issues. The Guide to Safety at Sports Grounds (.pdf, 1.4Mb) (The 'Green' Guide) suggests that these are usually interrelated and where these are likely to arise, the ground management should prepare a comprehensive risk assessment and plans for resolving them.

Specification considerations

The seat will have to take into consideration issues of comfort, safety, robustness and economy. The trade off between the comfort of a seat and the cost is of course a commercial consideration and will be dependent on the length of time it will be used for. While a football match may only last for 90 minutes, pop concerts for example may last anything from two to three hours. While bench style seating may take up less space than ‘individual seating’ they are usually uncomfortable and so are not recommended for long periods of time. The British Association of Spectator Equipment Suppliers (BASES) recommends that a minimum of 700mm is used.

The 'tip up' seat provides a wider seat when in use and a wider ‘clearway’ (also known as a ‘seatway) when in the upright position. The 'Green Guide' describes a clearway as "the distance between the foremost projection of one seat and the back of the seat in front of it". The measurement is included in the seating row depth. This is a crucial consideration when considering who stewards, public, police and emergency services can gain access to the middle of the row. It is also worth noting that, if an armrest is fitted, these must not project into the clearway to such an extent that they reduce the clearway to below the specified minimum.

While having a 'back' to the chair will of course will add comfort, some critics suggest that backless seating will allow emergency services to ‘step over’ the rows of seating, however Geraint John, a leading authority on stadia suggests that this argument seems lost. While tip up seats are perhaps less robust and more expensive than fixed seating, they are the norm in modern day stadiums and can also be upholstered at a later date. In order to provide an automated tipping function when not in use, it is recommended that the seat should be counterweighted or sprung, with moving parts which will not be susceptible to corrosion.

In addition to a trend towards greater comfort, seats in more expensive areas of sports grounds can be seen that incorporate holders for cups of drinks, match programmes, and even rentable binoculars. Seats are now available that follow on from airline seat designs by incorporating electronic communications in a handset to allow spectators to order food or drink, place a bet, or even watch an event on a screen.

Increasingly stadia are being used for a multitude of events outside of the football sporting calendar with events such as music consorts and exhibitions often calling for a different seating configuration. To this end, retractable or temporary demountable seats are quite widely used in North America to allow stadia to be adapted to a variety of different purposes.

Seats and seating systems designed for auditoria and stadia are generally supplied and fitted by specialists. For advice on seating systems and layouts refer to:

The role of seating in ground control

The 'Green Guide' points out that safety is down in no small part to the successful management of the ground, and therefore it will be up to the venue management to ensure that clearways are clean and tidy, wet seats are wiped down prior to admission and that tickets are only sold for usable seats. It is also important to that tickets sold correspond to the correct seat number and row.

The introduction of seating allowed ground staff to safely monitor crowds in a controlled manner, given that each ticket sold must correspond to a specific seat number. This means, however, that individual seating must be clearly identifiable and in the case of tip up seats ideally located on the front of the back rest (rather than on the underside of the seat).

The case for 'safe standing'

In recent years there have been calls for the introduction of ‘safe standing’ areas. The Football Supporters Federation which launched a campaign believes a pilot scheme would show standing is now a safe way to watch football.

Rail seat type stands are currently used in some European countries such as Germany. These incorporate a safety barrier and a flip-down seat on every other row. The seats can be locked in an upright position, meaning two rows of supporters can stand in between the barriers, which reduces the danger of a crush. This kind of solution would allow seating to be introduced to standing areas when required (when staging European competitions, where seating is compulsory, for example).

While the Government has reviewed the seating issue from time to time, it has publicly stated that it does not believe that a compelling case has been made to change existing policy.