After 266 days, today marks a hugely significant day in English football, as some Clubs reopen their doors allowing fans to return to stadiums for the first time in almost nine months.
Aside from a handful of pilot events in August and September, football stadiums across the UK have been empty since March, following the outbreak of coronavirus.
However, following the recent Government announcement on the return of fans in Tier 1 and Tier 2, six EFL Clubs will open their doors to supporters tonight, for the first time in almost nine months; a welcome first step for Clubs and a hugely important one too, says EFL Chair, Rick Parry.
“We’re all delighted and frankly excited,” Parry said, speaking to Sky Sports ahead of this week’s fixtures.
“It’s been a very, very long time coming, we’ve had many challenges along the way and there was a time when we were all thinking it might not happen this side of Christmas, but it’s a very welcome and a very important first step.
“It’s as exciting for fans as it is for Clubs, because they’ve missed football and I’m sure it’s going to be a special occasion in all the stadiums where fans are permitted on Wednesday night and over the weekend."
With the welcome news that some supporters are permitted to attend fixtures across the EFL, Cambridge United, Carlisle United, Charlton Athletic, Luton Town, Shrewsbury Town and Wycombe Wanderers will all play in front of fans this evening, as Clubs continue to work tirelessly to ensure the safety of those in attendance.
With staggered arrival times, fans remaining socially distanced throughout the game and face masks to be worn on entry into the stadium, there are a number of rules in place that will make it a different experience to usual, but Clubs are ready and Parry is confident it is something that will be embraced positively.
“Clubs will be ready, they have responded with great enthusiasm. Clubs have become incredibly resilient, they’ve had to because it’s been one challenge after another.
“This is the best way of reconnecting and having the fans back again. The message from the pilot events was that fans welcomed the opportunity. They behaved incredibly well, they all felt safe in the company of others and they all felt safe with the way that Clubs had prepared.
“It’s about common sense. We’ve got to be a little more tolerant and a little more patient than usual, but I know that Clubs and fans will embrace this opportunity positively. It’s the first step in a very important journey.”
Whilst the return of fans is an extremely positive step, only those Clubs in Tier 1 and 2 areas will be permitted to admit fans, meaning some Clubs will continue playing behind closed doors for the time being.
“Of course we wish everybody was being treated the same,” Parry continued.
“But I don’t think it should be all or nothing, fans shouldn’t be restricted everywhere. We came through last season by all pulling in the same direction and recognising that there needed to be compromise, this is no different.
"It’s an incredibly unusual season, but we need to take these really important steps if we’re ever to return to normality. We have to start somewhere and this is that exciting and positive first step. It’s a significant day and a positive day, that’s the only way to look at it.
“Of course, this is absolutely not the economic answer. There can be no taking the foot off the gas in finding a long-term solution, but today is a day to rejoice and a day that we’ve got to embrace."
Whilst there is light at the end of the tunnel with the recent Government announcement on the return of fans, with numbers limited, there will of course be many supporters who can not attend live fixtures until a larger number of fans can return to stadiums safely. Therefore, fixtures will continue to be broadcast live on iFollow (or a club’s equivalent service) for those at home.
iFollow continues to provide an invaluable service to supporters who are unable to watch their team live, as well as providing Clubs with a vital revenue stream.