The beginning of a new season is always an exciting time for football fans. However, it’s undoubtedly a very different experience when one is denied the opportunity to support their beloved team in person. Last weekend saw the 2020/21 season kick-off with Tottenham Hotspur v Everton and, once again, Spurs fans were required to watch a silent performance from their sofas.
However, there is a chance that Spurs fans could return to Tottenham Hotspur Stadium sooner than they think. The EFL has confirmed that eight pilot matches will go ahead this weekend to trial whether a safe return of fans to stadiums is possible.
Following Boris Johnson’s announcement last July, the successful run of these pilot matches could see football fans return to stadiums in time for the target date of 1st October 2020.
What are EFL’s Pilot Matches?
The EFL announced that the following eight pilot matches would take place between Saturday 19th September – Sunday 20th September 2020:
Championship Pilot Matches
- Norwich City v Preston North End – Carrow Road
- Middlesbrough v AFC Bournemouth – Riverside Stadium
League One Pilot Matches
- Charlton Athletic v Doncaster Rovers – The Valley
- Blackpool v Swindon Town – Bloomfield Road
- Shrewsbury Town v Northampton Town – Montgomery Waters Meadow
- Hull City v Crewe Alexandra – KCOM Stadium
League Two Pilot Matches
- Forest Green Rovers v Bradford City – The New Lawn Stadium
- Carlisle United v Southend United – Brunton Park
Luton Town v Derby County and Morecombe v Cambridge United were also initially due to be pilot matches. However, both teams have since confirmed that they will be unable to adequately prepare for the return of fans to their respective stadiums in time for this weekend.
Most EFL clubs were approached last Tuesday to see if they were interested in being part of the pilot programme. However, football clubs situated in local lockdown areas will not be able to take part in the pilot scheme.
What is the capacity of pilot matches?
Given the recent rise in COVID-19 cases, the capacity of pilot matches will be strictly limited to 1,000 people. Members of the British public have argued that pilot matches are contradictory to the government’s recently introduced ‘rule of six’. EFL Chairman, Rick Parry, is confident that stadiums limited to 1,000 people can still be compliant with government guidelines.
Parry stated that EFL clubs are losing £25 million each month that fans are absent from stadiums. The Premier League is also suffering significant financial losses, with clubs set to lose £100 million a month if matches are continued to be played behind closed doors. As a result, the Premier League have pleaded with the government not to delay the return of fans to stadiums any further.
It was recently demonstrated that small football gatherings could be conducted within government guidelines. Last week a successful under-21’s Cambridge v Fulham game took place with 862 fans. Parry believes matches like this evidence that social distancing can be possible within a football environment.
When will Tottenham Hotspur Stadium reopen?
The reopening of Tottenham Hotspur Stadium remains dependent on the success of the upcoming pilot matches. Nigel Huddleston from the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) has specified the government’s willingness to see the return of fans to stadiums in October as planned, providing that it is safe to do so.
It was initially hoped that football stadiums could reopen at around 30% capacity. However, with COVID-19 cases increasing, figures could remain around the 1,000 mark for some time.
Spurs initially requested to welcome back 8,000 fans in time for their opening game of the 2020/21 season against Everton. The request was, however, swiftly rejected by the government following growing coronavirus concerns.
Culture Secretary, Oliver Dowden, has highlighted that the government recognises the importance of fans returning to stadiums, whilst also being conscious of COVID-19. The government is ‘rapidly reviewing’ the situation and is keen to kickstart the return of fans to stadiums as soon as it is safe to do so.
The EFL’s introduction of pilot matches is a significant step in the right direction for both Spurs fans and the events and hospitality industry. If the EFL matches prove to be a success, this should hopefully see the return of fans to stadiums extended to Premier League games.
We cannot wait to welcome back our clients to Tottenham Hotspur Stadium and witness Mourinho’s men battle it out on the field once again.
Cheers to a weekend of successful pilot matches and the safe return of Spurs fans to Tottenham Hotspur Stadium as soon as possible! COYS!