Few Premier League clubs to greet fans back


England back with fans update 26 November Image: MJR Group Ltd./Coliseum

In the wake of the new tiered lockdown system announced in England on Thursday, 10 Premier League football clubs will be allowed to let in up to 2,000 fans to their home matches from next week.

The Premier League, often referred to outside England as the English Premier League or the EPL, is the top level of the English football league system. Contested by 20 clubs, it operates on a system of promotion and relegation with the English Football League.

For the remaining clubs, playing home games will continue to be a closed door affair as they are based in Tier 3 areas, which is deemed ‘very high’ on the COVID-19 alert level as the United Kingdom is back again in the grip of the deadly virus.

Clubs in Tier 2 (high alert) areas, where 2,000 fans will be permitted, include Liverpool F.C., Everton FC, Brighton & Hove Albion and Southampton, as well as the league’s six London-based teams – Arsenal F.C., Chelsea F.C., Tottenham Hotspur, West Ham United, Crystal Palace F.C. and Fulham F.C.

The clubs in Tier 3 are Manchester United, Manchester City, Leeds United, Sheffield United, Wolverhampton Wanderers, Leicester City, West Bromwich Albion, Aston Villa, Newcastle United and Burnley F.C.

The new tiered guidelines will come into force on December 2nd when the current national lockdown in promulgation in UK will end. Only three areas have been earmarked as Tier 1 (medium alert level): Isle of Wight, Cornwall and Isles of Scilly – none of which boast professional football teams.

The UK’s Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) confirmed on November 23rd that 4,000 fans would be permitted in Tier 1 areas and 2,000 fans in Tier 2 areas. Tier 3 areas will be required to continue hosting elite sporting fixtures sans spectators.

Arsenal F.C. will be among the first clubs to greet fans back after confirming plans to allow 2,000 supporters at the Emirates Stadium (London) for its Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) Europa League match against Rapid Vienna (Austrian football club) on December 3rd.

Arsenal will not be running a ticket ballot for the match and will instead offer a ‘first come, first served’ priority sale to Gold and Premium Members who made their initial payment and registered for the ballot back in September. The club plans on holding a ballot for the Premier League match against English association football club Burnley F.C. on the weekend of December 12th-13th.

Everton said that it is moving forward on talks with local and national authorities in preparation for the “phased return” of fans to its residence Goodison Park in Liverpool, England. Everton is scheduled to play host to Chelsea at Goodison Park on December 12th and the club is set to issue a ballot system for season ticket holders and hospitality members.

The English professional football club Southampton F.C. has also confirmed that it intends to welcome a maximum of 2,000 fans to their home ground St Mary’s Stadium in Southampton, England, starting with the match against Premier League team Sheffield United (South Yorkshire, England) on December 12th. Southampton said it has been working with supporter groups to create a fair method for distributing tickets and details of the process are set to be communicated in due course of time.

The other Tier 2 clubs eligible to welcome fans back are – Liverpool, Brighton, Chelsea, Tottenham, Crystal Palace, West Ham and Fulham – and they have not spelt out any plans to this end so far.

Reports of the imminent return of fans in England comes after the Scottish Professional Football League (SPFL) wrote to First Minister Nicola Sturgeon on Wednesday asking for an emergency meeting to end the “lockout” of fans in the country.

The Scottish Professional Football League is the national men’s association football league in Scotland. The league was formed in June 2013 following a merger between the Scottish Premier League and the Scottish Football League.

SPFL Chief Executive Neil Doncaster has urged the First Minister to allow fans back across the board in Scotland and highlighted the new guidelines in England. Lockdown restrictions in Scotland currently allow a maximum of 300 fans in the two lowest tiers.

Doncaster maintained, “Every major club in Scotland has very detailed, well-founded plans in place for safely returning fans back to stadiums, and thousands upon thousands of Scottish fans are simply desperate to get back quickly to watching their teams in the safety of a carefully managed, open-air environment. We are now calling on the First Minister to do the right thing by Scotland’s hard-pressed football supporters. If it’s good enough for English fans, it must be good enough for Scottish fans.”

The top sports functionary continued, “If the First Minister refuses to allow football fans all over Scotland to watch their beloved teams in carefully regulated, limited numbers, complete with track and trace, she will have to explain to them the clinical difference between Scottish fans and English fans.”

In response, Sturgeon said that football cannot be treated “in isolation” from other sectors, hinting that the wider return of fans across Scotland is not likely in the near future.

“However much Neil Doncaster, for reasons I understand, is only looking at football, we can’t see any sector or any part of society in isolation because there is only so much we can do overall to keep the virus under control,” Sturgeon told mediapersons.

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