By Jonah Ruddock
On December 5th, Premier League fans returned to the stands for the first time since March to watch West Ham play Manchester United at the London Stadium. London has been deemed a tier two location in the government’s COVID-19 restrictions, so only two thousand socially distanced spectators were allowed in the stadium, which can hold fifty seven thousand people in regular times. Fans entered a lottery system to win tickets, and those lucky enough to be present filled out questionnaires and had their temperatures taken before admission to the match.
The mask-clad fans entered to the sight of large “welcome home” signs and quite a few rainbows, a show of support for the LGBTQ community in accordance with the Rainbow Laces program. The crowd sang, cheered, and chanted. It was a beautiful and emotional ninety minutes for many West Ham supporters who had been barred from watching their club play for months. Unfortunately, only home fans were permitted to be there because of COVID restrictions.
Manchester United beat West Ham 3-1 after firing off three goals in a frenzied thirteen-minute window in the second half. After their sluggish and uninspiring performance in the first half, this was a surprising turn of events. The win was enough to move Man United up to fourth place in the Premier League.
Since then, fans have been able to attend several matches. Half of Premier League stadiums, most of them in London, are opening their doors to spectators once again. Cities in tier one are allowed four thousand fans in a stadium, tier two are allowed two thousand, and tier three stadiums remain closed to the public. This means that some clubs will not be able to play for in-person fans, which some say is unfair. Marcelo Bielsa, manager of Leeds, told CHRON that, “The presence of fans has an effect on the results. What the organization says is people who are from places where there’s a higher risk of infection, it means they will be penalized.”
Thousands continue to die of the virus in Britain, and it is not safe for some areas to open their stadiums to onlookers. Some, such as Bielsa, seem to be advocating for an all-or-nothing approach to the Premier League’s reopening plan in order to keep things fair, but it is unlikely to happen. After waiting for so long, fans jump at the chance to go to matches, and players love to have them there. After their first game with spectators, Arsenal player Alexandre Lacazette said, “It was amazing… Even in bad moments they pushed us.”
During the long war against COVID-19, it’s evident that the spirit of football has survived. After this, what could ever crush it?