Sports

Football fans return to Premier League ground but comeback labelled “political”

Football fans returned to a Premier League ground for the first time in nine months on Thursday night.

At Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium. 2000 supporters took their socially-distanced seats in the stands for the Europa League tie with Rapid Vienna.

It is the first time there have been fans in any Premier League stadium since Liverpool ’s Champions League loss to Atletico Madrid in March.

Following the latest Government guidance, top-flight and EFL clubs are allowed to welcome some fans back to their grounds, depending on where their location falls within the country’s tiered system.

Currently no professional football club is in tier one, where capacities are set at a maximum of 4,000. Half of Premier League clubs are in tier two, where capacities cannot go beyond 2,000, with the other half in tier three, where spectators remain barred.

With London in Tier 2, the Emirates is capped at 2000.

Fans inside the ground

The LED screen displays a message of “Avoid Hugs, High-fives and close contact”

The return of Arsenal fans to see Mikel Arteta’s side in action comes after Wednesday saw the first sporting events with spectators in attendance following the end of England’s second national lockdown.

West Ham’s match at home to Manchester United on Saturday evening will be the first in the Premier League to welcome spectators since March, with others set to follow over the rest of the weekend including Tottenham vs Arsenal on Sunday.

Tests outside the ground

A female supporter inside the stadium

At a Premier League meeting on Thursday, top-flight clubs have signed off on new protocols ahead of fans returning to Premier League matches this weekend for the first time since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic in March.

They include supporters wearing face coverings in all areas of the stadium and to be considerate of those around them when singing and shouting.

Premier League clubs are also understood to be ready to offer up their facilities to assist with the national coronavirus immunisation effort.

An Arsenal fan is interviewed outside the stadium before the match

Two fans outside wearing masks, as a limited amount are allowed to return

Additionally, the Premier League protocols on face coverings go beyond what is mandated by the Government.

It is hoped by taking these steps, along with many other mitigations, it will put the Premier League’s clubs in the best possible place to convince Government and the Sports Technology and Innovation Group (STIG) task force that it is ready to be involved in trials with greater capacities than those allowed by the tier system.

However, the decision to allow supporters to return has been described as “political” Forest Green chairman Dale Vince.

He says as a football fan he is delighted supporters are allowed back, but he can’t understand the rationale behind the decision.

Gunnersaurus entertains a supporter

“I do think we will see a spike after Christmas because of a relaxation of rules,” he told the Press Association.

“We could have a lockdown in January and we could see fans excluded again, that’s possible.

“All summer long we were in tier one, we had a pilot event in September, it went really well, days later the Government said ‘no more pilots’.

“After the lockdown we came out in tier two and within days we were told we could have fans back.

“We don’t have fans back now because of an improvement in the background conditions, either the infection rate or hospital admissions, (because) that’s gone up, it’s near the March peak.

“What we’ve got is fans back for political reasons and I think (relaxing restrictions at) Christmas for political reasons.”

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