People movement and crowd dynamics consultancy Movement Strategies will be on hand to observe the spectator experience as Cambridge United becomes the first English Football League (EFL) club to welcome fans back for competitive fixtures.

Movement Strategies was commissioned by the Sports Ground Safety Authority (SGSA) and the EFL to assess the application of social distancing at football grounds as clubs look to start welcoming fans back following the COVID-19 shutdown.

The Valley, home of Charlton Athletic, and Cambridge United’s Abbey Stadium were selected as two case studies based on the age of the grounds and their mix of seating and terracing.

The project has enabled the SGSA to stress-test its recently published guidance on social distancing at stadiums. Movement Strategies has used the findings to provide a ‘how-to’ guide for EFL clubs developing social distancing plans that other teams can replicate.

Areas considered include basic social distancing principles at grounds, seated and standing capacity calculations, concourse capacity, entry and exit capacity calculations, ZoneEx (the immediate public area outside sports venues) operations, and in-venue operations such as toilet facilities, food and beverage, hospitality, retail and accessibility.

Cambridge United will host Fulham U21s in the EFL Trophy tonight in the first of two test fixtures that will be held in line with the government’s fan pilot scheme. A limited number of Cambridge fans will be able to attend this evening’s fixture and Saturday’s League Two home match against Carlisle United.

Movement Strategies will be on site for Saturday’s game to observe the fan experience, with social distancing measures to be in place as attendance increases.

Dr Aoife Hunt, associate director at Movement Strategies, said: “The SGSA’s social distancing guidance provides venue operators with a much-needed planning toolkit to enable the readmittance of spectators to live sport. The case studies at Charlton Athletic and Cambridge United were an important step to ensure this guidance can successfully be applied to real-life grounds, and we are looking forward to seeing the fans at Abbey Stadium at the upcoming fixtures.

“There are so many factors that venues have to take into consideration when planning for the return of fans, and it’s our job to help make the process as straightforward as possibly by providing them with all the information and guidance they need to determine a new safe capacity and get the right social distancing measures in place.

“We are proud to now be working alongside clubs from the Premier League, the EFL and the National League, as well as other venue operators across the UK, as they prepare to safely re-open their doors to fans once they are permitted to do so.”

Movement Strategies is also supporting the SGSA on the evaluation of social distancing at a range of other sporting events, including the recent World Snooker Championship at Sheffield’s Crucible Theatre.

Image: Cambridge United