In Depth

Why everyone’s talking about football fans returning to stadiums

Premier League fixtures are out but how long will games be played behind closed doors?

Premier League clubs now know their opponents for the new season after the release of the 2020-21 fixture list this week, but are less sure about when their fans will be allowed back into stadiums. 

When the 2019-20 campaign was suspended in March due to the coronavirus pandemic, nine rounds of fixtures were still to be played. When the top flight restarted on 17 June, all remaining matches were played behind closed doors - as will the opening rounds of the new season.

With fixtures confirmed, fans of Premier League clubs are now waiting to find out when the turnstiles will open.

Fans to watch Man Utd vs. Spurs in October?

The Daily Mail reports that Premier League fans could be allowed to return to stadiums from 1 October - match week four of the new campaign. 

Last month Boris Johnson announced that restrictions could be eased for mass gatherings and is hopeful fans will be allowed back. 

The prime minister said: “From October we intend to bring back audiences in stadia and allow conferences and other business events to recommence, again these changes must be done in a Covid-secure way subject to the successful outcome of pilots.” 

The Mail says Manchester United’s home clash with Tottenham on 3 October could be among the first set of Premier League games to have fans back in attendance.

Other fixtures that weekend include newly-promoted Leeds United taking on Manchester City at Elland Road and Aston Villa hosting champions Liverpool at Villa Park. 

Reduced capacity 

Even if the green light is given for fans to watch live football again, the capacity within Premier League stadiums will be reduced. 

Government has set a 30% capacity limit, The Telegraph reports, and this will come as a severe blow to many clubs desperate for match-day revenues. 

The Premier League is set to challenge the figure as it feels the percentage should be tailored to each club and stadium. The Telegraph adds that top-flight bosses want to put together “bespoke cases” for every club, with stadium design, transport links and local infection rates taken into account.

The Mail says clubs with older, smaller grounds may see fewer than 30%, while bigger and more modern venues want to host larger numbers.

According to a study of social distancing in sports stadiums by Liberty Games, and reported by talkSPORT, Manchester United are the only Premier League side who would be able to have more than 20,000 supporters if a one-metre rule was in place. 

Nine top-flight clubs would have fewer than 10,000 fans watching games while Burnley, with just 5,820, would have the smallest crowd.

The Premier League trophy

Chris J Ratcliffe/AFP via Getty Images

No singing - even if you’re winning 

Fans who do attend Premier League games will have to follow a strict set of rules and could be made to sign a code of behaviour, The Sun reports. 

As well as social distancing, one-way systems in and out of stadiums and the reduced capacity, fans are also likely to be urged “not to chant or shout for fear of spreading the virus”. 

The Mail says: “Supporters will be expected to take full responsibility for themselves by not attending games if they show Covid-19 symptoms or if they’ve been near anyone who has them.”

Wembley triple header 

The English FA is also hopeful that some England fans will be welcomed back to Wembley Stadium for an international triple-header in October. The Three Lions host Wales in a friendly on 8 October and play Belgium and Denmark at Wembley in the Uefa Nations League on 11 and 14 October respectively.

FA chief executive Mark Bullingham said: “Uefa’s overriding consideration was: ‘Let’s get these games done in September without fans and let’s look at that for October. We’d like to get fans into Wembley in October. We are not talking about full stadia but we are talking about having some level of crowd back.”

According to the Liberty Games study of social distancing, capacity at Wembley Stadium would be reduced from 90,000 to 24,400 to allow for the one-metre rule.

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