For the first time since March, fans were allowed to attend English Premier League matches today. But not very many fans and not all EPL matches.
England is divided into three categories (tiers) for purposes of the pandemic, with tier 3 being the most seriously affected. No EPL venue falls within tier 1. The 29 venues are equally divided between the other two tiers.
In tier 2 venues, 2,000 fans are now allowed to attend soccer matches. In tier 3 venues, fans are still entirely barred. If there were any stadiums within tier 1, 4,000 fans could attend.
All of London apparently falls in tier 2. Thus, 2,000 fans were allowed to see the home matches of Chelsea (West London) and West Ham (East London). However, in Burnley, about 30 miles from Manchester, no fans were allowed to attend the home team’s draw against Everton. They didn’t miss much.
In London, as I understand it, the lucky 2,000 fans were selected randomly among season ticket holders who were interested in attending. Everyone attending had to agree to certain conditions, including staggered admissions, the taking of their temperature, and the wearing of a face mask at all times.
However, when the cameras panned the crowd at the London Stadium, where West Ham plays, compliance with the mask wearing requirement was not robust. To be fair, it’s questionable whether mask wearing outdoors provides any extra protection against the virus.
I was surprised that at the West Ham match, the crowd was not more heavily dispersed. Fans seemed to be clustered disproportionately in the Billy Bonds stand, named after the legendary Hammers defender of (mainly) the 1970s.
The London Stadium is cavernous and the Hammers lost 1-3 to Manchester United. Thus, I didn’t hear as much noise from the crowd as I expected. Hammers fans did sing their trademark song “I’m forever blowing bubbles” with some gusto, however.
The Chelsea crowd made plenty of noise and the broadcast picked it. One could really tell how much these fans missed watching live football, as they roared their team to a 3-1 victory over Leeds United.
Liverpool falls within tier 2. This means that 2,000 fans will be allowed into Goodison Park for Everton’s next home match, a week from today against mighty Chelsea.
If we don’t improve our play, there might be some booing of the home team by the end of the match. I heard there was at some venues in England’s lower divisions this week. I assume that booing poor play by the home team is part of what fans have missed for all of these months.