A number of English Football League (EFL) clubs welcomed fans to their stadiums for the first time in nine months last night as new guidelines allowing up to 2,000 spectators at live sporting events were introduced.
In the Championship, Wycombe Wanderers welcomed 1,000 fans for the club’s first-ever match in the second tier. Although the home supporters left disappointed after Wycombe fell to a 1-0 defeat to Stoke City, manager Gareth Ainsworth said it was “awesome” to have fans back.
It marked the first time since February that Wycombe fans had attended a match at Adams Park. Wycombe will now look to welcome 2,000 fans for the home match against Coventry City on December 12.
Elsewhere in the Championship, Luton Town welcomed 1,000 fans to Kenilworth Road for its 3-1 win against top-of-the-table Norwich City. Luton’s process for selecting the 1,000 fans was a ballot among supporters who have held a season ticket for 10 years or longer.
In League One, 2,000 fans watched Charlton Athletic’s 1-0 home defeat against MK Dons, with the same number in attendance for Shrewsbury Town’s 2-2 draw against Accrington Stanley.
In League Two, 1,917 fans were in attendance as Cambridge United fell to a 1-0 defeat at home to Mansfield Town at Abbey Stadium (pictured), with 2,000 supporters watching Carlisle United’s 2-1 home win against Salford City.
Fans also returned to horse racing yesterday, with a limited number of spectators permitted at Ludlow, Lingfield, Kempton and Haydock.
A number of other EFL clubs in Tier 2 areas are set to welcome fans back to their stadiums this weekend following last week’s announcement of the new tiered lockdown system in England.
Half of the clubs in the Premier League will also welcome back fans at the weekend, with Arsenal set to be the first top-flight team to do so later today (Thursday) when it hosts Rapid Vienna in the UEFA Europa League. Fans will also be present at Premiership Rugby matches at the weekend and during England’s Autumn Nations Cup match against France at Twickenham on Sunday.
To support the safe return of fans to stadiums, a new campaign entitled ‘For the Love of Sport’ has launched this week. The campaign has been developed by the Sports Technology and Innovation Group (STIG) and promotes safety advice to fans, while setting out how grounds are publicising that they are safe.
The campaign has been launched by a range of sports and includes a ‘We’re Fan Ready’ mark for grounds and venues. The message will be visible across venues, with each sport to integrate its own messaging specific to their club, venue or competition.
David Ross, chair of the STIG, said: “For both fans and sportsmen and women, the love of sports goes hand in glove with the atmosphere in stadiums. Everyone in sports is working extremely hard to get people back to cheering their teams on as soon and as safely as possible.
“Now more than ever, it’s really important that we all play our parts and follow the guidance. This will help us keep everyone safe, and over time allow more and more fans back into the grounds.”
Up to 4,000 fans are allowed in Tier 1 areas but currently only Cornwall, Isle of Wight and Isles of Scilly fall into this bracket. Two thousand fans are allowed in Tier 2 areas but Tier 3 areas will continue to stage sporting events behind closed doors.
Discussions are taking place over the possibility of larger-scale pilot events being held but Ross said this would be contingent on upcoming events going ahead safely.
Ross told the Press Association news agency: “There is now a hope and an ambition that large-scale pilots will be the next stage of where we go, and it is fair to say that is an active discussion between ourselves and DCMS.
“They have got to be really well thought through. I have no doubt that the most important thing in taking this forward will be proving that the 2,000 and 4,000 levels is something we can build upon. Responsible behaviour really underpins that route back.”