Return of fans on the horizon for a number of clubs after tier system unveiled

By PA Sport Staff
·5 min read

Brighton, Chelsea, Liverpool and West Ham will be able to allow fans into their stadiums for their first Premier League matches in December under the Government’s new tier system in England to tackle the spread of coronavirus.

Those clubs are within tier two areas, meaning if the clubs wish to they can welcome in up to 2,000 fans.

Those would be the first top-flight matches to be attended by fans since the Covid-19 outbreak took hold in March.

The Premier League is yet to confirm the scheduling for matches to be played over the weekend of December 5 and 6.

Empty grounds have been the order of the day since June
Empty grounds have been the order of the day since June (Jan Kruger/PA)

Brighton will host Southampton, Chelsea are at home to Leeds, champions Liverpool take on Wolves at Anfield while West Ham could welcome fans to the London Stadium for the visit of Manchester United.

The other six matches will be played in tier three areas, where fans are still not allowed.

Before that, Arsenal could be the first top-flight English club to play a competitive game in front of their own fans since March when they host Rapid Vienna in the Europa League on Thursday, December 3.

EFL chairman Rick Parry said his competition was considering whether to switch next Tuesday’s matches to Wednesday if any of the home clubs were able to allow fans in after the lockdown period ends.

Brief pilot schemes were held earlier in the season
Brief pilot schemes were held earlier in the season (Owen Humphreys/PA)

Of the games to be played on Tuesday, Bournemouth’s Championship match against Preston could welcome fans if it is pushed back 24 hours.

So too could QPR’s match against Bristol City.

In League One, AFC Wimbledon, in tier two, would be allowed supporters in for the visit of Peterborough if the game is rescheduled.

Crewe could too for the match against Swindon, as could Oxford (against Ipswich), Northampton (against Fleetwood) and Plymouth (against Rochdale).

In League Two, games at Colchester, Forest Green and Harrogate would be able to allow fans in if they were moved to December 2.

Of the matches already scheduled to be played on Wednesday, Luton can allow in fans for the Championship visit of Norwich, as can Wycombe for the match against Stoke.

In League One, Charlton’s game against MK Dons may be attended by supporters, as can Shrewsbury – who host Accrington.

League Two Cambridge said subject to approval they were looking forward to welcoming fans back against Mansfield, while Carlisle could too for the game against Salford.

The Government had been set to allow supporters into sports venues from October 1, but scrapped the plans after a rise in coronavirus infection rates nationwide.

Worcester’s match against Bath on Saturday, December 5 is the first Gallagher Premiership match which would be able to allow in spectators under the new rules.

Northampton released a statement which said their first match with fans would be a 1,000-capacity pilot event against Doncaster in League One on December 5.

The Cobblers said they would conduct a ballot of season ticket holders, and any not selected will be able to attend the following home game against Lincoln on December 19.

“We cannot begin to tell you how happy we are to be able to welcome you back to the PTS Academy Stadium,” a club statement read.

“While we are still having to operate within carefully controlled conditions, these are huge steps forward.”

Leyton Orient chief executive Danny Macklin insists reopening to fans will cost the club – but it is a price they are willing to pay.

London will be in Tier Two of the new regionalised tier system to combat the coronavirus pandemic.

Orient, who are eighth in League Two, host Bristol Rovers in their next home game in the EFL Trophy on December 8.

“Opening the gates will actually cost us money but it’s a price we are willing to pay to get fans in and this is step one,” he said, before the government’s tier announcement.

“Stadiums reopening to fans won’t be a revenue generator for us. We’re lucky enough to already have 3,600 season card holders, and the loyalty of our fanbase has helped the club massively through such a difficult time.

“To get into the position where we can safely welcome fans back, we have to go through an awful lot of processes. Every single game will go to our season card holders through a ballot – which is quite a complicated process.”

Clubs have been using alternative ways of filling stands
Clubs have been using alternative ways of filling stands (David Davies/PA)

AFC Wimbledon do not expect to have fans back at their new Plough Lane ground before January as there are some areas of the stadium which need completing and they need to hold test events to secure safety certificates.

Chief executive Joe Palmer told the club’s official website: “Naturally, we will try our best to speed up the process.

“But there is a lot of work to be done first, we will not compromise our long-term ability to use the stadium – and we will not take stupid risks when the safety and security of absolutely everyone is at stake.

“Now, we have to hit fast forward and get it ready for a limited numbers of fans and while that is exciting and something we dearly want, it is also something we can’t rush, given the forthcoming Christmas holidays and our reliance on other parties to work through the protocols.”