Plans to restrict away followings at Premier League football matches to 1,000 fans and only admit those people who live near the ground have won the backing of supporter groups.
The Premier League is currently in discussion with government about bringing 10,000 supporters back into top tier stadiums before the end of the season.
One of the issues officials are wrestling with is whether to allow away fans, and if so, how to manage the increased risk associated with people potentially travelling large distances.
Football fans have barely been alowed into stadiums since March last year and want to return
A possible solution is to allow away fans, but only sell tickets to those supporters who live in postcode areas close to the stadium where their club is playing.
If that helps usher in the day stadiums can return to full capacity then the Football Supporters’ Association, which represents fan groups across the country, are in favour.
‘Almost the entire football season has been played behind-closed-doors and it’s proven what everyone knew to be true – football without fans in the grounds just isn’t the same,’ Kevin Miles, the FSA chief executive, told Sportsmail.
‘So, we’d welcome measures this season which would, safely and in line with any government rules, help home and away fans get back into grounds for the final rounds of fixtures.
Manchester United beat Manchester City 2-0 in front of a full house just before lockdown
LIMITS FROM MAY 17
From May 17, indoor venues will be allowed to admit up to a maximum of 1,000 spectators, or half their capacity if that figure is lower.
For outdoor events, there will be a maximum of 4,000 fans allowed, or half a venue’s capacity (whichever figure is lower).
However, at the biggest stadiums, with a capacity above 16,000, such as Wembley and Premier League football grounds, a maximum of 10,000 fans will be allowed, or a quarter of capacity (whichever figure is lower).
From June 21, there is the possibility that all legal restrictions on social contact are lifted, including at large scale events. But this will be dependent upon the ongoing rollout of the vaccine and keeping serious illness under control. Events would be managed using learning from the pilot programme.
‘Away fans matter and if plans did involve restrictions involving post codes or locality to grounds that could still include away supporters. They don’t always live in their team’s town or city.’
Fans have been largely banned from stadiums since the first lockdown was imposed at the beginning of the pandemic in the UK in March last year.
Some clubs were allowed up to 2,000 at the end of 2020, if they were in tier two areas, but rising rates of infection quickly saw turnstiles close again.
The FSA recognise the plan now under discussion is an imperfect solution, but they believe it’s better than nothing and could demonstrate that home and away fans can be accommodated safely.
‘Premier League and EFL clubs might have hundreds, or even thousands, of fans who live in London but support a team from another part of the country,’ added Miles. ‘Any new rules could take that into account.
‘We speak to all the leagues on a regular basis and we’ll continue to make the case for a safe return of fans to grounds, while ensuring that anyone shielding for medical reasons is treated fairly too.’
If implemented, the plan would antagonise some committed fans, who would no doubt feel excluded. And it would be unlikely to result in uniform attendances.
Could Crystal Palace muster 1,000 fans on Merseyside for their final match of the season away at Liverpool?
Fans are desperate to return to stadiums and away supporters help create atmosphere
The Premier League is considering how fans can return to stadiums this season
However, it could be useful for the government, the league and clubs to test their systems with a significant number of away fans involved.
The Events Research Programme, which begins in mid-April and will comprise of around 14 events in sport, culture and business, is investigating the safe return of crowds.
Within the programme are an FA Cup semi-final, the Carabao Cup Final and FA Cup final, which will all be played at Wembley in front of increasing numbers of fans. Although it is yet to be decided how many and if they will be supporters of the competing sides.
The scientists and government officials recognise that they have to start small, but they also know they must investigate realistic occasions, if the country is to return to normal.
For football, that obviously includes the presence of away fans.
However, the question of away fans only arises if agreement is struck on letting supporters in at all.
Football Supporters’ Association says the game has suffered without fans in stadiums
As it stands, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s roadmap to easing lockdown restrictions means up to 10,000 fans could attend matches in large venues from May 17, provided the test events have been successful, the vaccination programme continues at pace and the Covid pressure on hospitals is limited.
The date means the final round of fixtures on May 23 would be allowed to admit fans, but those scheduled for May 15 would not.
This is problematic because clubs that have to play away in front of fans in the final game of the season will be disadvantaged on a day when relegation and European qualification is likely to be decided.
Kevin Miles of the Football Supporters’ Association would welcome the return of fans
Premier League CEO Richard Masters had said he wants fans back for the last two matches
In order to ensure the sporting integrity of the competition, the Premier League is considering delaying the May 15 fixtures, so all clubs will play one game at home and one away.
The Premier League does not require permission from government to move the fixtures. However, under the terms of the roadmap, government will assess the impact of easing lockdown restrictions at each stage before approving the next one.
Allowing up to 10,000 fans back into grounds from May 17 is part of step three of the roadmap. Ministers are only due to announce if the conditions to proceed have been met on May 10.
Earlier this month, Richard Masters, chief executive of the Premier League said officials were working on fans returning.
‘Hopefully the final two of the fixtures of our season will have up to 10,000 supporters in them all,’ he said. ‘We have got to get past those first initial steps in the road map to get there but it will be a fantastic finale to the end of our season.’
Following the conclusion of the Premier League season, the country will gear up to host seven matches at Wembley in Euro 2020.
The late stage of the group phase falls after June 21, the earliest date Johnson has set for the lifting of social distance restrictions.
If the Event Research Programme and any Premier League games have gone well, sources say the organising committee in London will hope to achieve a capacity of 50% to 60%. A full house, even for the final on July 11, currently looks unlikely, Sportsmail understands.
Boris Johnson unveiled his lockdown exit strategy, which includes a four-step approach