Cheers All Round as Fans Return
Last weekend saw a landmark moment in 2020, as fans in Tier 2 regions finally returned to the stands, albeit limited at 2000 regardless of stadium size.
Whilst currently, Cornish Pirates are the only semi-professional/ professional side in the country that would be allowed 4000 fans in attendance due to being in Tier 1, the sound of cheers and gasps from the terraces was a welcome boost, one that finally suggests that things may eventually get back to normal.
In the South-West, football clubs Bristol Rovers and Bristol City, alongside rugby’s Bristol Bears are still forced to play in empty stadiums due to being in Tier 3. However, Sandy Park will reopen its doors to the paying public on 19th December, as Exeter Chiefs Women’s team finally get the chance to play in front of a crowd, as they take on Sale Sharks.
In more positive news, Secretary for Culture, Media and Sport Oliver Dowden remains optimistic that full capacity crowds will be allowed into stadiums as normal again by next autumn, although of course we will all hope it will be sooner.
When quizzed on the plausibility of the United Kingdom being able to host the Rugby League World Cup without restrictions next autumn, Dowden sounded optimistic that capacities would be able to continue increasing.
‘He’s [Andy Carter MP] absolutely right to raise the risks around Covid. I very much hope by that point we’ll be able to have full return of fans to stadiums, but of course we’ll ensure that contingencies are in place.’
The 2000 fans at Twickenham last Saturday for England’s encounter with France in the Autumn Nations Cup final eventually helped cheer their team to an extra-time victory, whilst also letting their side know their feelings on the style of play with some occasional booing of decisions.
For many clubs though, simply being allowed a maximum of 2000 fans isn’t enough and, with no roadmap to increasing capacities back to normal again, or any potential timeframe, many clubs will continue to suffer financially. Many clubs will continue to suffer huge losses without near sell-out crowds. Without fans in attendance, Exeter Chiefs, the only profitable professional rugby team in England pre-Covid, where suffering losses of over £1 million per month. Even with the partial return of fans, those losses will continue until clubs will continue to struggle financially. Rowe’s warning that without fans clubs will be ‘be paying more money back and there will be no light at the end of the tunnel,’ is a stark warning of the potential pitfalls.
Some league organisers, such as the Premier League have mandated that fans in stadiums must wear masks, despite being socially distanced in an outside setting, something that may potentially put off a number of fans from returning. Similarly, the advice from SAGE that fans should refrain from raising their voices or cheering whilst watching their team is sure to put off a number of potential spectators.
Returning to the positives though, fans returning has finally returned some of the soul to professional sport. Having people in the crowd to cheer you in, celebrate every goal or try, and bring that local support can only help the players in their respective sports. After all, it’s what they crave and thrive on. That public adulation for them using their talents to yes, play competitively, but also entertain the masses.
One suspects that for a good while, the voices of 2000 people may well sound like tens of thousands to those out on the pitch. Here’s hoping that sooner or later, those numbers will continue to grow.