The Premier League has written to its 20 clubs asking if they would be interested in taking part in a trial to reintroduce standing sections in their grounds.
The question is part of a wider survey on the issue of safe standing and it follows an earlier commitment to conduct a fact-finding exercise on the matter.
In a statement, a Premier League spokesman said: “Last November clubs tasked the Premier League with scoping out the safety, supporter, technical and legislative issues surrounding permitted standing before further discussions, based on facts, take place. This survey is part of that process.”
The pilot scheme question is undoubtedly the most interesting but it is also hypothetical, as the government remains opposed to the idea and many senior police officers are still unsure about the safety implications of allowing football fans to stand during games.
A Department of Culture, Media and Sport spokesperson said: “The government currently has no plans to change its position and introduce standing accommodation at grounds covered by the all-seater requirement.”
Clubs in England’s top two divisions have been legally required to have all-seater grounds since the measure was recommended by the 1990 Taylor Report into the Hillsborough disaster.
For more than a decade there was little interest in revisiting that move but, over the last few years, there have been growing calls for a rethink from campaigners, fans groups and, more recently, some clubs.
They have pointed out the inconsistencies in the policy – it only applies to the top two tiers in England, rugby fans can stand, as can fans at concerts at football grounds and away fans at many grounds are effectively allowed to stand by stewards – and highlighted the rail-seat system popular in Germany.
The latter point has taken on more significance after Celtic installed 2,600 rail seats – seats that can be flipped down or locked into an upright position, with safety barriers separating each row – at Parkhead last season.
This experiment is considered to have been a major success in terms of atmosphere, choice and safety, and several Premier League clubs have been to Glasgow to see it in action.
Officially, the Premier League’s stance has always been neutral, saying it will follow its clubs on the issue, although it is widely known league boss Richard Scudamore is very reluctant to reopen the matter.
But more clubs have been raising the issue and it is a topic that has come up in all three of the “structural dialogues” the league has held with supporters’ representatives over the last two seasons.
There are two significant obstacles to any return to standing sections at Premier League level, though.
The first is the issue of whether it would need a change in legislation or not, and there is some disagreement on that. Amending the existing law without support from the police and the government department in charge of sport would be difficult.
The second hurdle is Merseyside, where feelings on safety at football matches run high for entirely understandable reasons. Everton has traditionally supported Liverpool’s stance on the issue but even here public opinion is starting to shift.
Prominent figures such as new Liverpool mayor Steve Rotheram and the Hillsborough Family Support Group are against a return to standing at football grounds.
But the Hillsborough Justice Campaign is open to a debate on the matter and the club’s biggest independent fans group, the Spirit of Shankly, is planning to vote on the issue this summer.