How long before football fans are allowed into stadiums again?
Football authorities are right to be looking at ways of returning fans to stadiums, say the Sunday Supplement panel, following reports 20,000 supporters could attend the FA Cup final.
In the revised football calendar, the showpiece final is now due to be held at Wembley on August 1 and a report in the Mirror on Sunday says 10,000 fans from each club could be present.
Elsewhere, there have also been reports leagues in Italy and Spain could restart in front of socially distanced supporters, with stadiums around 20 per cent full.
“It feels hopeful and we could all do with a bit of that at the moment. And it makes some sense, if spacing can be done,” said Matt Dickinson, the chief sports writer of The Times.
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“Obviously it throws up all sorts of other issues about public transport, people getting into the stadium… There’s an awful lot of practicalities to be resolved. But as has been reported this morning, they’re exploring it in other countries and it makes sense to explore it.
“I’m sure there are logistical challenges to overcome but if the fans can be got there safely, can be spread out through a stadium, then why shouldn’t we be looking at it. Because step by step, we’re trying to get back to as normal as we can. And to me, football will not be back properly until I can go with my kids and sit in the stand and watch it.
“We’ll take whatever we can before then – but that is when football will be back.”
Bundesliga missing atmosphere
Melissa Reddy, the senior football correspondent at The Independent, said while the Bundesliga’s return in Germany has been a success on the pitch, the absence of supporters has detracted from the spectacle – and there is also a financial incentive for fans to return.
“Initially, with the Bundesliga being the template, you felt like something was missing,” she said. “Obviously the game remains the game, so the technical aspects you still enjoy. But there is a sense of it not being whole without the atmosphere, without the fans there to enjoy it.
“I think the other important element of getting fans back gradually is not just the feeling around the game but it will be important financially for the clubs to get some match day income back because, as we all know, the financial implications of COVID-19, has been unprecedented for clubs.”
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The Bundesliga has been played in front of empty stands
But who would make the cut to attend supporters if only a limited number of seats were available? That will be one of the many issues to be debated, said Jeremy Cross, the chief sports writer at the Daily Star.
“Richard Masters [the Premier League chief executive] spoke last week about being hopeful for next season that supporters would stand a realistic chance of attending games again but he said it would be on a phased basis and he didn’t really expand on that,” said Cross.
“I suppose you could argue season ticket holders would be the priority. Would they then go on age? We just don’t know. There are so many uncertainties but when we get to that point when clubs can consider a certain percentage of fans coming back it will no doubt be a massive debate.”
Trust fans not to gather outside grounds
The Sunday Supplement panel say the Premier League should trust football fans to not congregate outside stadiums, and believe matches should be played at home grounds rather than neutral venues
The Premier League will return initially without fans. However, there are discussions around some games – including fixtures where Liverpool could clinch the title – being played at neutral venues, with concerns about fans gathering outside home grounds for big fixtures.
Cross says that approach would be disrespectful to football supporters.
“I think it’s quite disrespectful to presume that fans can’t be trusted not to gather outside of grounds,” he said.
“We’ve seen footage over the weekend of beaches being packed, beauty spots getting jammed with people, and nothing seems to be done about that. We haven’t even got to the point of games resuming yet, and football supporters are not to be trusted.
I think it’s quite disrespectful to presume that fans can’t be trusted not to gather outside of grounds.
Jeremy Cross, Daily Star
“I know Liverpool feel aggrieved about this as they feel their supporters are being singled out for special attention, and obviously part of that is because they’re about to win the title, but I understand why they feel they are being highlighted as the problem club here.
“You’ve got to remember that Liverpool aren’t just supported by fans in Liverpool. They have a supporters’ club in Brighton, they have fans all over the country. Wherever they play, there’s going to be this threat.”
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Dickinson feels the best way to deal with the issue would be to allow the clubs to communicate with their supporters.
“I think this is the thorniest issue, and I can completely see why Liverpool as a club and as a fan base are perturbed by the idea that they should be singled out,” he said.
“They are unique circumstances with Liverpool winning the title after this long wait – it’s something that in normal circumstances would trigger a celebration among hundreds of thousands of people. The whole city would be brought to a standstill for a week.
“There’s a latent desire to celebrate, which is totally understandable. I do worry about it – I’ve spoken to some people who feel the best way is for fans to be policed through their own clubs.
“Jurgen Klopp is one of the best communicators in football and he is certainly the best communicator to Liverpool fans about what should be expected from them.
“If you take the games away from Liverpool itself, you’re already creating a bit of tension around it. It’s probably best to try to keep the games at Anfield, and for the club to communicate as best they can, through Jurgen Klopp and the players over what’s safe and what’s expected.
“I do think it’s very contentious to take those games away from Anfield, and I think it may end up creating more problems than it solves. I understand why the debate is on the table, but I don’t think taking the games to Wembley is some sort of panacea.”