Brighton & Hove Albion and Chelsea will this weekend become the first Premier League teams to play in front of fans in almost six months after the Government added their pre-season friendly to a list of test events.
Some 2,500 tickets will be available for the game at Brighton’s Amex Stadium on Saturday, after the government announced a further tranche of test events across the country’s major sports to pilot the safe return of spectators with a view to a full reopening in October.
Among the around a dozen events are a Premiership rugby fixture between Harlequins and Bath at Twickenham Stoop, some cricket T20 Blast group fixtures and horse racing at Doncaster, Warwick and Newmarket. They come after similar trials at the recent World Snooker Championship final at the Crucible and cricket at Edgbaston and the Oval.
Test events must conform with strict measures designed to limit the spread of Covid-19, including upholding social distancing in queues and minimising the risk of any pinch points or crowding. Operators must also carefully control bookings so that social distancing is observed in seating arrangements, minimise the numbers of tickets sold to a pre-defined safe capacity, in accordance with regulator guidance, and record people’s data to assist NHS Test and Trace.
The tickets available for the Brighton game will be offered to the home side’s season-ticket holders and members for between £5-£15 with no ticket sales on the day.
A Brighton spokesperson said: “Several significant changes have been made to the stadium and operations to fulfil this test event, in line with government guidelines.”
Only the East Lower, East Upper and part of the South Stand will be open for Saturday’s game, with supporters required to leave at least one empty seat between themselves and others. Brighton said face coverings must always be worn at the stadium on matchday, unless sat in a seat or while eating or drinking.
The club said cleaning operations have been scaled up significantly, with sanitising stations available across the stadium, on entry to all turnstiles, the store, near catering outlets and within toilets.
The club will no longer be issuing tickets on club ticket stock – tickets will be available as print at home, or by loading tickets to their phone, to reduce touchpoints and meet safety requirements. All payments in the stadium will be cashless and can be made by mobile phone or card.
A Department for Culture, Media and Sport statement said that pilots will only take place if the latest scientific and medical advice allows for them to proceed in a Covid-secure way, and will be paused again if the advice suggests that conditions in the local area are not met.
“I know fans and their teams can’t wait to be reunited in stadia across the country but it’s imperative we take a cautious and phased approach to get fans back in safely,” said Oliver Dowden, Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.
“I’m pleased that infection rates have levelled off enough to resume the pilot programme and we will continue to work intensively with sports, medical and health and safety experts towards welcoming more fans back as fast as we can.”
Test event plans were paused in July due to a rise in Covid-19 cases but resumed in mid-August.