NEW NORM: Supporters will have to adhere to a lot of new rules when attending football matches in the near future. AFP/VNA Photo
Finally a glimmer of hope, albeit a very small one. A tiny light that’s difficult to actually see unless you squint really hard, at the end of a very long, dark and damp tunnel.
I don’t want to say it too loud just in case I jinx the plans. But, it looks like sooner rather than later, we could see a small number of supporters back watching Premier League football matches in stadiums in the very near future.
While this is good news, in the early days of fans actually attending games in person, be prepared to expect the unexpected.
According to the plans drawn up by the British government, the COVID-19 state-of-play in each city across the country will determine the number of fans allowed into grounds at any one time.
Those places considered Tier 1 in the UK could see up to 4,000 fans allowed in and Tier 2, 2,000. Sorry Liverpool and Manchester, you’ll have to wait a little while more as those cities fall into the Tier 3 category.
And there are many rules to actually follow when the stadiums finally reopen.
Alcohol inside the grounds will be banned and all food kiosks closed. Supporters will be told to stagger their arrival times and, this is the big one, singing and shouting will not be permitted!
What? Wait a minute.
So stadiums will open, in a few cities around the country, a handful of supporters will be allowed in, they can’t eat, can’t drink and won’t be able to sing?
Hardly seems worth it on one hand, but it is a massive step in the right direction. Since last season restarted after the first lockdown in the UK, football matches just haven’t been the same.
Sure, fake crowd noise played for television viewers adds a tiny bit of atmosphere for fans watching at home, but for the players themselves, it must feel like a training match.
And I think this has shown in results and performances we have seen so far this season.
It’s an old cliché, but the ‘12th man’ is certainly a factor that can determine the outcome of a football match.
Manchester United have won only one league game at home all season. Would they have fared any better with 70-odd thousand supporters screaming and shouting getting behind the team? Probably.
Liverpool, current champions, dropped points at rivals Everton after a 2-2 draw in front of an empty Goodison Park. Maybe in the white-hot cauldron on derby day the score could have been much different if the place was packed with supporters.
If a striker misses a gilt-edged chance at home he will no doubt hear and feel the disappointed and collective groans from thousands of people around him, and this may inspire said player to up his game and do better.
A few thousand fans dotted around grounds ordered to sit in silence won’t necessarily make much difference to begin with. But gradually, as the season goes on, I hope beyond hope the pandemic situation eases so more and more supporters can enjoy what they love best.
It is going to take a bucket load of hard work and an awful lot of luck before football gets back to resembling anything like what it did before COVID came a-calling.
And while next month has been pencilled in as the time to open the turnstiles once more, I suspect and fear the days when thousands upon thousands of fans are inside stadiums cheering their team on are still a long, long way away. VNS