Football Safety: A Discussion on All-Seater Stadiums

How The Hillsborough Disaster Could Have Been Avoided


This page argues that the ideas of the late footballer and football administrator Jimmy Hill could have helped prevent the Hillsborough disaster. Hill's innovation was to introduce an all-seater stadium at the Coventry City ground in 1981.

All-Seater Stadiums to prevent the Hillsborough Disaster

The Who concert disaster of 1979, was an indication of a tragedy that could occur in an enclosed space. The Heysel Tragedy and the Bradford Fire of 1985 were warnings to the football authorities of an impending disaster. In particular, policymakers should have learnt from the 1981 FA cup game, between Tottenham and Wolves at the Hillsborough football ground (see the videos below).

The UK government should have imposed all-seater stadiums. Also, any attempts to damage seating at football grounds should have been punished in the strongest terms. All of the football grounds, in the top two divisions of English football, should have been required to introduce all-seater stadiums. This was a policy which was later recommended by the Taylor Report into the Hillsborough disaster.

Academics have described the Heysel Tragedy as a policy fiasco with an inadequate stadium and inexperienced policing contributing to the disaster. All-seater stadiums, at the higher levels of the game, could have been funded. Transfer fees could have been used to fund sitting room for fans to maintain spectator safety. The money which was spent on football transfers led to an extremely poor allocation of resources in British society.

The Need to Prioritise Safety

Conclusions can be drawn from the Hillsborough Disaster. Crowd control, with the installation of barriers, was mistakenly prioritised over crowd safety. After the 1981 football season, there was a fundamental need to remove barriers at football grounds. Also, football matches needed to be 'all ticket' where tickets had to be bought before the game and seating had to be reserved. All tickets needed to be sold by 12:00 and anyone without tickets needed to be asked to leave the vicinity of the ground.

The arguments presented here are made in hindsight. However, there were complaints arising from the 1981 FA Cup game; see the comments below the You Tube videos below. These grievances were overlooked given that the 1989 disaster occurred. Lessons have to be learnt from complaints and from the experience of previous tragedies or near-disasters. The 1981 FA cup game can be seen as a near-disaster. Also, the 2017 Grenfell Tower fire in London occurred in the aftermath of residents complaints over safety. Members of the public need to have the power to influence safety policy.


The disaster could have been avoided with all-seater stadiums, no barriers to the pitch and properly enforced all-ticketing arrangements. The recommendations in the Taylor Report needed to be introduced in 1981.


Concerns over safety need to be acknowledged; so that policymakers learn from disasters and near disasters. Learning from accidents provides guidance so that future disasters can be avoided. This would be a vital first step that needs to be taken before any economic appraisal of a safety programme is made. This includes a survey asking the public how much they would be willing to pay for safety programmes.

Video of Hillsborough from 1981: Wolves versus Tottenham (FA Cup Semi-Final Game)

Video of Hillsborough from 1981: Wolves versus Tottenham (FA Cup Semi-Final Game)

Fences were also a concern at the York versus Sunderland game in 1988.

The Hillsborough Disaster (Which Contains Upsetting Scenes): Shown on Television in Ireland

The Case Against Safe Standing at UK Football Grounds


This writing provides some arguments against ‘safe standing’ at British football grounds. The introduction of all-seater stadiums reduced spectator congestion, with the Taylor Report into the Hillsborough disaster. There was a reduction in the allocation of tickets to away-fans which was an appropriate measure to maintain crowd safety.

Concerns over the Introduction of Rail Seating

The movement towards rail seating can lead to 1.8 standing spaces for every seating space. The problem is that safe standing attempts to increase the capacity of a football stadium with up to 80% more supporters than a seated area of a similar size. This will increase congestion within a football ground.

The argument that safe standing is useful because it leads to lower prices for fans should be challenged. Safe standing could offer a 30% reduction in the price compared to seating tickets. However, such lower prices should not come at the expense of spectator safety. The football authorities should recognise that the capacity of football stadiums needs to be constrained to maintain safety standards. This concern is similar to unease over congestion on airlines. There is an airline which wants to reduce the cost of flying with passengers crammed onto flights; with customers expected to sit in a space available for a stool. Safe standing appears to mean the introduction of standing up seats and trying to fit more people into the same space.

Also, ‘safe standing’ has been justified on the grounds of a better atmosphere for supporters. Again, the safety of spectators should take precedence over other factors such as an improved atmosphere for fans.


Safety considerations should take priority over the capacity and ‘atmosphere’ of a football ground. Therefore, the current arrangements for all-seating in the top two divisions of English football should remain unchanged. It is possible that safe standing is appropriate for football clubs in the third and fourth tiers where attendances and crowd congestion are lower. An argument made by a relative of a victim of the Hillsborough disaster is relevant. If seating had been in place instead of standing then this could not have happened. Arguably, any form of standing is a step in the wrong direction.

The Hillsborough disaster could have been avoided by making sure that crowd safety was prioritised over crowd control. The barriers to the pitch should never have been in place. If there is football hooliganism then games could be televised or played behind closed doors. Another solution before the Hillsborough disaster of 1989, would have been to stop playing games of football rather than imposing harmful fencing. If football fans misbehave then the football and policing authorities have the right to intervene to make sure that spectator safety is prioritised.


The Hillsborough disaster is still relevant with ongoing concerns over spectator safety at football grounds. There was overcrowding at a game between Newcastle and Burnley in 2019.