By Jamie Sim
Marking the end of England’s four-week lockdown, from 2nd December stadiums will be reopening their doors. In tier one, areas with the lowest risk, they will be able to accommodate a maximum of 4,000 fans, in tier two 2,000 fans will be allowed to return, while in tier three no fans will be permitted. In indoor arenas, meanwhile, a maximum of 1,000 fans are permitted in tier one and two areas, and like outdoor venues none in tier three.
Tomorrow the public are expected to receive news on which tier they stand, with the North West and North East expected to remain within the strictest of the measures. Premier League clubs can therefore make preparations for crowds to return for the weekend of the 5th and 6th December.
Ask any sports fan and they will agree that this announcement has been a long-awaited one. Since elite football returned in June it has been played behind closed doors, apart from 2,000 lucky Brighton fans who attended a trial home fixture against Chelsea in August, being the only fans allowed back into a Premier League stadium since March.
Clubs have been able to withstand the financial results of this period with assistance from the Premier League and television companies. Since June all Premier League games have been televised on either a subscription or box office service, which has led to drastic changes in dates and times of football matches, with fixtures being rescheduled in order to be shown live so that fans have been able to follow their clubs from home.
Being expected to part with £14.99 for the likes of Fulham vs West Bromwich Albion, alongside any current subscription fees, as a Cottagers fan I felt the negative side of the Box office system first-hand. This additional cost was mostly apparent for smaller clubs in the Premier League, in matches with the lowest expected viewing figures.
The Box Office system has since been scrapped, fortunately, and all games have returned to a shared schedule across the regular streaming services. This will likely continue until enough fans are able to return to stadiums, such that matchdays are able to be profitable, though there seems to be a disagreement between clubs which will benefit from their geography. For example, clubs which are in tiers one and two will be allowed to host home crowds, benefiting in a sense of both a profit and support, purely based on which zones of the tier system they lie within.
On balance, however, this recent announcement is an overwhelming positive for the nation, since as well as elite sport returning the government have given a green light to grass root sport returning from the 2nd December, along with gyms and leisure centres. This widespread return of sport and leisure is a relief to the many in this country who rely on it as their primary pastime, marking a significant milestone in the nation’s efforts to return to some sort of normality during the pandemic.
The most recent lockdown has had devastating effects to the leisure industry, with many gyms, pools, sports centres and sports clubs being tested and thousands of jobs risked. The news has been greeted well by the general public, many glad to be able to return to their leisure activities, though some are struggling to find the brighter side.
Some football clubs, namely Burnley, believe that opening their doors to a reduced crowd will do more damage to the club than good, for example on a regular matchday they require a crowd of 10,000 in order to break even. The potential to have a crowd of 2,000 therefore leave the club at a significant matchday loss, therefore this potentially negative effect on smaller clubs may leave some either unable or unwilling to reopen their turnstiles over the winter period, no matter which tier they find themselves placed in.
Ultimately, however, this announcement is great news for sports fans up and down the country. Exercise and leisure are undeniably such key factors in promoting a healthy society both physically and mentally, and the return of live sport and the increased opportunities to exercise gives people a sense of hope going into the new year.
Image: Gareth1953 All Right Now