Half of Premier League clubs set to welcome back fans

Ten Premier League football clubs will be permitted to welcome up to 2,000 fans to their home matches from next week following the announcement today (Thursday) of the new tiered lockdown system in England.

The remaining clubs will continue playing home games behind closed doors as they are based in Tier 3 areas, which is deemed ‘very high’ on the COVID-19 alert level.

Clubs in Tier 2 (high alert) areas, where 2,000 fans will be allowed, include Liverpool, Everton, Brighton & Hove Albion and Southampton, as well as the league’s six London-based teams: Arsenal, Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur, West Ham United, Crystal Palace and Fulham.

The clubs in Tier 3 are Manchester United, Manchester City, Leeds United, Sheffield United, Wolverhampton Wanderers, Leicester City, West Bromwich Albion, Aston Villa, Newcastle United and Burnley.

The new tiered guidelines will come into force on December 2, following the end of the current national lockdown. Only three areas have been earmarked as Tier 1 (medium alert level): Isle of Wight, Cornwall and Isles of Scilly – none of which have professional football teams.

The UK’s Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) confirmed on Monday that 4,000 fans would be allowed in Tier 1 areas and 2,000 fans permitted in Tier 2 areas. Tier 3 areas will be required to continue hosting elite sporting fixtures without fans.

Arsenal will be among the first clubs to welcome back fans after confirming plans to allow 2,000 supporters at the Emirates Stadium for its UEFA Europa League match against Rapid Vienna on December 3.

Arsenal will not be running a ticket ballot for the match and will instead offer a ‘first come, first served’ priority sale to Gold and Premium Members who made their initial payment and registered for the ballot in September. The club plans on holding a ballot for the Premier League match against Burnley on the weekend of December 12-13.

Everton said that it is progressing discussions with local and national authorities in preparation for the “phased return” of fans to Goodison Park. Everton is scheduled to host Chelsea at Goodison Park on December 12 and the club is set to issue a ballot system for season ticket holders and hospitality members.

Southampton has also confirmed that it intends to welcome a maximum of 2,000 fans to St Mary’s, starting with the match against Sheffield United on December 12. Southampton said it has been working with supporter groups to create a fair method for distributing tickets and details of the process are set to be communicated in due course.

At the time of writing, the other Tier 2 clubs eligible to welcome fans back – Liverpool, Brighton, Chelsea, Tottenham, Crystal Palace, West Ham and Fulham – have not detailed any plans.

News of the imminent return of fans in England comes after the Scottish Professional Football League (SPFL) yesterday wrote to First Minister Nicola Sturgeon asking for an emergency meeting to end the “lockout” of fans in the country.

SPFL chief executive Neil Doncaster has urged the First Minister to allow fans back across the board in Scotland and highlighted the new guidelines in England. Lockdown restrictions in Scotland currently state that a maximum of 300 fans are allowed in the two lowest tiers.

Doncaster said: “Every major club in Scotland has very detailed, well-founded plans in place for safely returning fans back to stadiums, and thousands upon thousands of Scottish fans are simply desperate to get back quickly to watching their teams in the safety of a carefully managed, open-air environment.

“We are now calling on the First Minister to do the right thing by Scotland’s hard-pressed football supporters. If it’s good enough for English fans, it must be good enough for Scottish fans.

“If the First Minister refuses to allow football fans all over Scotland to watch their beloved teams in carefully regulated, limited numbers, complete with track and trace, she will have to explain to them the clinical difference between Scottish fans and English fans.”

In response, Sturgeon said that football cannot be treated “in isolation” from other sectors, suggesting that the wider return of fans across Scotland is unlikely.

“However much Neil Doncaster, for reasons I understand, is only looking at football, we can’t see any sector or any part of society in isolation because there is only so much we can do overall to keep the virus under control,” Sturgeon said, according to BBC Sport.

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