TIME and the game have moved on. As football looks to the future, it must go back to the past.

The debate around safe standing in British stadia will forever be dominated by history and tragedy but the moment, and the momentum, is now right. Change is in the offing.

On Wednesday morning, the Sports Grounds Safety Authority (SGSA) set out plans that will allow clubs in the Premier League and Championship to offer licensed standing areas from January 1 as part of a pilot programme.

The introduction of designated standing sections will mean an end to the ban on standing in England's top two divisions that has been in place since the Taylor Report into the Hillsborough Disaster.

The loss of 97 Liverpool supporters in 1989 remains the worst tragedy inside a British stadium and it is understandable why many would be hesitant about the introduction of standing sections once again.

Football today, as a business and an experience, is a very different place than it was back then, however, and the advancements in technology, security and legislation mean now is the time for standing to be brought back at the top level in England.

Sports minister Nigel Huddleston said: "We have been clear that we will work with fans and clubs towards introducing safe standing at football grounds providing there was evidence that installing seating with barriers would have a positive impact on crowd safety.

"With independent research now complete, and capacity crowds back at grounds across the country, now is the right time to make progress. I look forward to hearing from clubs who wish to be part of our early adopters programme during the second half of this season."

Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur appear set to lead the way in England and could become the first clubs to install safe standing areas for the second half of the Premier League campaign.

Manchester United, Liverpool, Chelsea, West Ham United and Wolverhampton Wanderers, as well as Championship sides Bristol City and Cardiff City, are also looking to follow.

Those clubs may have to undertake modifications to their grounds to comply, however, after it was ruled that home and away sections must be made available.

A range of measures will be put in place for clubs who wish to participate in the programme. Supporters must be able to sit or stand in any licensed area, whilst abiding by a code of conduct to regulate fan behaviour.

Seats in the sections cannot be locked in the up or down positions and there must only be one seat or space per person to ensure there is no overcrowding.

Clubs will also have to take the matchday experience of other supporters - including disabled fans - into consideration and any safe standing area must not impact the viewing standards of those in close proximity.

The move in the Premier League and Championship has to be welcomed. Indeed, it has to be followed.

It is five years since Celtic installed their rail seating at Parkhead and the area that houses the Green Brigade has been an undoubted success.

The behaviour of supporters - in terms of banners flown or song sung - cannot be a consideration here and the Celtic section has proven that standing can be safe.

Research conducted during the 2019-20 campaign found that seats with barriers or independent barriers helped reduce the risk of persistent standing and it is only right and fair that fans have the option of how they watch their team in action.

Four years ago, a poll of almost 18,000 Liverpool supporters by the Spirit of Shankly saw an overwhelming 88 per cent vote in favour of standing areas returning to Britain.

No club and no fanbase understands the sensitivities around the subject more than the Reds and their followers and supporters - no matter the colour of their scarf - will surely take into account the views from across Merseyside.

Margaret Aspinall lost her son, James, at Hillsborough and is the former chair of the disbanded Hillsborough Family Support Group. Time will never ease her grief, but it has altered her mindset.

"My opinion has completely changed from what it was a few years ago,” Aspinall said. "Safety is paramount, and I hope lessons have been learned. Fans will not be treated, and are not being treated now, like they were in the 1970s and 1980s, herded like cattle.

"Things have changed and we have got to move on with the times. And the times are that the younger ones especially and some of the older generation do like standing, but there is a seat for everyone and that is so important."

The introduction of licensed areas in England will allow fans to make their own decisions. That is an opportunity that Scottish fans should be afforded.

The benefits in terms of matchday experience and atmosphere are clear but clubs haven't exactly rushed to follow Celtic's example.

There will, of course, be cost implications and that may prove to be the biggest impediment to progress in the Premiership as fans are denied the chance to stand safely.

When Kilmarnock installed two small sections at Rugby Park a couple of years ago, the project was driven and paid for by the supporters.

The issue has been on the agenda for some time at Rangers, but the Ibrox board have never committed seriously to taking the idea forward and funds are currently ring-fenced for other projects in and around the stadium.

English clubs are now set to lead the way once again and Scotland should not be left behind on a subject as significant to the game and those that are the lifeblood of it.

The review that has been launched by five SPFL members – Aberdeen, Dundee, Dundee United, Hearts and Hibernian – will aim to find ways to improve our game commercially.

But the fan experience has to be at the heart of it all and discussions with supporter groups, clubs and Government over safe standing areas would be a small step in the right direction.

The time for change has come. Scottish football cannot be left standing alone in the future.