Coronavirus UK: Football fans take their seats in stadiums

First football fans take their seats in stadiums across Britain to enjoy a night of socially-distanced sport as England exits four-week lockdown

  • Around 10,000 masked football fans have poured into sports stadiums 
  • Spectators in London, Carlisle, Shrewsbury and Cambridge are first to reenter venues since England’s second lockdown ended 
  • Grounds have mostly stood empty since March 13 as the pandemic took off 

Masked football fans took to their seats in stadiums across the country tonight to watch live matches at a social distance as England exits lockdown. 

Around 10,000 fans have been allowed into six games in London, Carlisle, Shrewsbury and Cambridge after grounds stood empty during the pandemic.

Fans went to the 27,000-capacity Valley sports stadium in Charlton to watch the League One clash between Charlton Athletic and MK Dons, while Carlisle United squared off against Salford City in Brunton Park.   

Supporters returning to stadiums are also exempt from Tier 2 restrictions which state that they can only be served alcohol with a substantial meal. 

They will be forced to stay in concourses and must be seated to have food and drink, while hospitality in sports venues must take last orders at 10pm.

It comes after Michael Gove was forced to deny that venues including sports grounds might insist on proof of a jab in return for granting entry after Boris Johnson’s vaccines tsar Nadhim Zahawi made the suggestion. 

Government guidelines say that stadiums should ‘take steps to reduce queues for ordering’ and ensure that ‘social distancing is maintained at all times’, but will allow fans to drink alcohol without ordering food. A ban that’s been in place since 1985 means no alcohol can be consumed in sight of the pitch.

Charlton Athletic fans in the stands prior to the Sky Bet Championship match at The Valley

Fans of Carlisle United look on from their socially distanced positions in the terraces as the Carlisle United side warm up ahead of the Sky Bet League Two match

Luton Town fans wearing protective face masks applaud in Kenilworth Road, Luton

Fans in the stands at Kenilworth Road in Luton as Luton Town play Norwich City

To fill up spaces in the stands, cut outs have been added to Brunton Park in Carlisle

A fan has their temperature taken prior to entering Kenilworth Road for football

Luton Town fans outside the stadium prior to the Sky Bet Championship match

There have been calls for the rule to be scrapped in light of the pandemic and for a form of ‘table service’ to be allowed at seats in order to avoid fans gathering at bars. 

However the law has not yet been repealed, meaning that distanced seating may have to be installed on concourses if teams wish to serve alcohol.  

That might not be a problem for modern grounds like the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium or Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium. However, older grounds with smaller capacities and narrow concourses may struggle to meet the new regulations and be forced to abandon plans to sell alcohol altogether.

Fans fancying a pint at the grounds able to sell them face another dilemma, however; toilets could be shut. 

According to the Telegraph, a code of conduct sent to fans warns: ‘Some of the ground’s amenities, such as toilets, food-and-drink outlets, may not be in operation or may be operating at a reduced capacity.’

Fans are also being warned against signing and shouting to limit the spread of Covid-19, which has forced sporting events to go behind closed doors since March. 

Government guidelines warn: ‘If singing is expected to take place, spectators should be reminded of the risks. The cumulative effect of aerosol transmission means the more people involved, the higher the risk of transmission.’ 

A general view of socially distanced fans in the stadium during the Sky Bet League One match between Shrewsbury Town and Accrington Stanley at Montgomery Waters Meadow

Cambridge United fans watch the action at Abbey Stadium, Cambridge

fan celebrates after his sides first goal scored by Lewis Alessandra of Carlisle United during the Sky Bet League Two match between Carlisle United and Salford City at Brunton Park

Carlisle United fans look on during the match, as a limited number of fans attend stadiums

Fans arrive for the Sky Bet Championship match at The Valley, London

Shrewsbury Town fan Ed Dickson inside the stands before the Sky Bet Championship match at Montgomery Waters Meadow, Shrewsbury

Fans arrive for the Sky Bet Championship match at The Valley, London

Londoners poured into The Valley, the 27,000-capacity sports stadium in Charlton, to watch the League One clash between Charlton Athletic and MK Dons. In Carlisle, spectators flocked to Brunton Park as Carlisle United squared up against Salford City in the Sky Bet League Two game

Arsenal will welcome fans for their clash with Rapid Vienna on Thursday while the north London derby at the Tottenham  Hotspur stadium will also have supporters.

Sportsmail revealed last week that the Department for Culture Media and Sport has submitted proposals to the Cabinet Office for the return of fans to grounds in December for the first time since March.

In his statement detailing the long-awaited return of spectators to live sporting events, Boris Johnson said: ‘In Tiers 1 and 2 spectator sports and business events will be free to resume inside and outside with capacity limits and social distancing.’

There were fears that Premier League clubs could reject the chance to welcome fans back into their grounds next week due to concerns over cost and the absence of a roadmap towards full capacity crowds.

Sportsmail has been told that while their operating costs vary, all 20 top-flight clubs would lose significant sums if they admitted even the maximum number of 4,000 fans that the Government announced on Monday — a limit that is unlikely to be permitted in large areas of the country.

Carlisle United fans and cut outs inside the stadium before the match, as a limited number of fans are allowed to attend stadiums

To fill up spaces in the stands, cut outs have been added to Brunton Park in Carlisle

Luton Town fans hold up a sign outside the stadium before the match

The Premier League defied the Government in September by cancelling planned test events due to unhappiness at a Downing Street-imposed capacity cap of 1,000, which they deemed uneconomic, and some of their clubs could do so again.

The Premier League responded today with a statement, one which suggested they feel the measures do not go far enough.  

‘Fans have been greatly missed at Premier League matches and therefore we welcome the Prime Minister’s announcement today regarding the return of supporters for the first time since March, albeit at small numbers,’ the statement read. ‘Our ambition remains to work with Government to increase attendance to more substantial levels. Until this can be done, many fans will be unable to attend games and our clubs will continue to operate matches at a financial loss.

‘Our priority continues to be the agreement of a roadmap, with DCMS and the Sports Technology and Innovation Group, for pilot events that can help our clubs quickly scale up to larger capacities in line with the Sports Ground Safety Authority’s COVID-secure guidelines and beyond.

‘Premier League clubs have a proven track record of achieving high-biosecurity standards and we believe we can play a significant role in the Government’s rapid turnaround testing initiative.

‘We look forward to working with Government on their next steps.’ 

As it stands, all Premier League clubs that are able to open will be doing so.   

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