Arsenal will be the first Premier League club to welcome fans in for a competitive fixture since March after confirming 2,000 spectators will be allowed in for their Europa League match against Rapid Vienna next Thursday.
The Gunners learned on Thursday that the Emirates Stadium is in tier two of the Government’s new regionalised approach to tackling the coronavirus pandemic, and will now be able to welcome fans in for the clash with the Austrian side.
A club statement read: “It’s been almost nine long months since we had fans in attendance at Emirates Stadium and our matches have simply not been the same without you.
“While we appreciate that reduced capacity matches will be far from being ‘back to normal’, we can’t wait to welcome our fans back home for what will be a historic moment for the club.”
West Ham’s match against Manchester United on December 5 is set to be the first Premier League game with fans in attendance.
The league released its confirmed televised schedule for the rest of the year on Thursday afternoon, and the Hammers, whose London Stadium is in tier two, kick off against Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side at 5.30pm on that date.
West Ham say they are continuing to prepare for the return of spectators, but have yet to confirm arrangements for the Manchester United match.
A statement on the club website, detailing fixture changes in December, read: “West Ham United and the Premier League noted the Government’s announcement that, subject to tiered Covid-19 guidelines, a small number of supporters may be able to attend the aforementioned matches.
“West Ham United want the safe return of our supporters to London Stadium as soon as possible and the club continues to plan and prepare in great detail, working with supporters, stadium partners and the Premier League, while following the guidance issued by the Government and the Sports Ground Safety Authority.
“The club will continue to keep supporters up to date as the situation develops.”
All the games which precede it – Aston Villa v Newcastle on December 4, Burnley v Everton at 12.30pm and Manchester City v Fulham on December 5 – are being played in tier three areas.
Brighton, Chelsea, Tottenham and Liverpool are the other teams in tier two areas hosting games that weekend.
Brighton boss Graham Potter, whose side host Southampton the weekend after next, said: “The biggest relationship at the football club is the one between the supporters and the players. So to have them around, I think it is amazing for everybody and great for football.”
Leeds boss Marcelo Bielsa, whose side are based in a tier three area where fans remain banned from venues, believes it is unfair to allow fans to return on a partial basis.
“It shouldn’t be about the category, or the consequences of being in a category, it should be about trying to maintain the competition as equal as possible with things that are controllable,” Bielsa said.
“The presence of fans has an effect on the results.
“What the organisation says is people who are from places where there’s a higher risk of infection, it means they will be penalised.”
The Rugby Football Union has announced it will be allowing 2,000 spectators into Twickenham for England’s final Autumn Nations Cup match on December 6.
One fifth of the tickets will go to local NHS workers, the governing body said, with 1,000 seats on sale with prices starting at £75. The remainder of the tickets will be allocated to the players’ families, local rugby clubs and sponsors.
Worcester are the first Gallagher Premiership team to welcome fans after the November lockdown, when Bath visit Sixways on December 5. The Warriors have confirmed a crowd of 2,000 will be able to attend the match.
Clubs in football’s EFL have been desperate to get fans back into stadiums, because they rely much more heavily on matchday revenue than Premier League sides backed by a lucrative television deal.
League Two side Cambridge could be among the first to reopen their doors after confirming they are working on plans to welcome supporters in for the game against Mansfield on December 2.
The Us were the first professional football club in England to stage a competitive fixture with fans since March when they welcomed spectators in for a pilot event against Fulham’s under-21s in the Papa John’s Trophy in September.
A number of clubs issued holding statements on Wednesday to say they were working through the detail of how to let spectators back in safely. League One club Northampton said it was aiming to allow 1,000 season ticket holders into their ground for the December 5 visit of Doncaster as a pilot event.
Leyton Orient chief executive Danny Macklin, whose club are in a tier two area, said: “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.
“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.”
The EFL said a total of 34 of its clubs were in tier two, potentially impacting on six matches next week.
“The EFL is working with those clubs to support discussions with local safety advisory groups to ensure EFL stadiums can safely welcome back fans from Wednesday, December 2 onwards,” a league statement read.
“Whilst the return of supporters, even in a limited capacity, is a positive and important step, we will monitor progress in the coming weeks and continue to work with the Government to ensure all clubs are able to welcome back fans, in larger numbers, as soon as it is can safely be achieved.”
Racegoers could return to courses as early as Wednesday, with Ludlow, Lingfield, Haydock and Kempton all in tier two areas.
Racing has been staged behind closed doors since its return on June 1, barring two crowd pilots at Doncaster and Warwick in September.
Ludlow’s general manager Simon Sherwood is looking forward to the return of a crowd, although he is anticipating no more than 600 spectators on the day as the track “treads cautiously”.
The Government had staged a number of pilot events over the summer in the lead-up to what it hoped would be the wider return of spectators from October 1.
However, it had to scrap those plans after a sharp rise in coronavirus infections nationwide.
Under the tier system, up to 4,000 spectators are permitted to elite sports events in tier one. At present, the only areas in that tier are the Isle of Wight, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly.
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