Great Britain

Football fans return to stadiums for first time in eight months as Charlton, Wycombe and Carlisle host supporters

FOOTBALL fans tonight returned to stadiums for the first time in more than eight months - as Charlton, Wycombe and Carlisle all welcomed supporters.

Grounds have been empty since the start of the first coronavirus lockdown in March with fans forced to watch their teams from home.

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Cambridge, Carlisle, Charlton, Luton, Shrewsbury and Wycombe became the first teams to play competitive fixtures with supporters in the stands since March.

Luton supporters waved "We're back!" banners as other fans were pictured spread out in the stands observing social distancing.

It comes after England's second national lockdown lifted today, allowing up to 2,000 football fans in for club's in Tier 2 areas - or half of their capacity if that number is smaller.

'WE'RE BACK!'

In Tier 3, fans are still barred from stadiums, while Tier 1 regions can host up to 4,000 per match.

Only one per cent of the country falls into this category - and none have professional football teams.

West Ham will be the first to welcome fans back for a Premier League fixture as they play Manchester United on Saturday.

Tomorrow, the first European football fixture in England to host fans since March will be when Arsenal host Rapid Vienna in the Europa League at the Emirates.

Luton and Wycombe’s games were limited to 1,000 supporters, while the other four English Football League (EFL) games were able to have the maximum 2,000.

Fans were told not to touch the ball if it comes near them, not approach players for autographs or pictures, and to wear facemasks as they entered the stadium.

They were allowed to sing - as long as they remained socially distanced - and could buy alcohol without a substantial meal, as is required in pubs and restaurants, Talk Sport reports.

Other restrictions are being determined by individual clubs, with Everton FC today urging supporters to get tested before entering stadiums.

The club said supporters would only be allowed in if they had a negative Covid test.

A spokesperson for the club announced: “To provide the very safest environment for every fan attending the game - and to support the city’s ongoing mission to defeat COVID-19 - we feel it is only right that we ask everybody fortunate enough to secure a ticket through the ballot process to utilise the mass-testing centres across the city in the 36 hours prior to returning to Goodison for the Chelsea match. 

“Coupled with temperature checks on entry, social distancing, the wearing of masks and regular sanitising of hands, it makes for a thorough plan aimed at maintaining the city’s downward trajectory in relation to COVID-19 infections.”

'SEASON-TICKET BALLOT'

In a blow to clubs across the country, England's latest Tier restrictions mean they are having to ballot season-ticket holders to decide who gets in — with giant Tier 2 stadiums at Tottenham, Arsenal and West Ham left with 30 seats per every fan.

Clubs know they will face criticism if they put corporate fans ahead of normal match-goers while some may question whether it is cost-efficient.

It is understood Wembley needs crowds of 10,000 at events to break even.

Many sides in the North will have to continue to play in empty stadiums, with strict Tier 3 restrictions remaining in place.

FIRST ROUND OF PREMIER LEAGUE FIXTURES AFTER RULE CHANGE

THE first round of Premier League fixtures after the change of rules on December 2 will be over the weekend of December 5/6.

Exact kick-off times and dates have yet to be confirmed.

Aston Villa vs Newcastle United

Brighton vs Southampton

Burnley vs Everton

Chelsea vs Leeds United

Liverpool vs Wolves

Manchester City vs Fulham

Sheffield United vs Leicester City

Tottenham vs Arsenal

West Brom vs Crystal Palace

West Ham vs Manchester United

Burnley’s Turf Moor will remain shut and boss Sean Dyche said of the matter: “It is a start point.

“Even if it is limited numbers it brings that feel and that connection back. Hopefully it will build quickly after that. We have missed our fans.”

But Salford owner Gary Neville said: “So some clubs will have fans backing them in home fixtures and others will have empty stadiums with no fans. Unfair competition or not?”

A Premier League statement added: “Fans have been greatly missed and  we welcome the Prime Minister’s announcement regarding the return of supporters for the first time since March, albeit at small numbers.

“Our ambition remains to work with Government to increase  attendance to more substantial levels.

“Until this can be done, many fans will be unable to attend games and our clubs will continue to operate matches at a financial loss.”

Only home fans will be allowed in, with clubs under orders to impose strict social distancing.

Charlton release video telling football fans how to safely attend matches

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