London (AFP) – Arsenal will be the first Premier League club to welcome fans for a competitive fixture since March after confirming 2,000 spectators will be allowed in for their Europa League match against Rapid Vienna on December 3.
England will return to a regional tiered system when the national coronavirus lockdown ends on December 2, with those areas suffering the worst case rates entering the highest Tier 3.
Most of the country, including London, will enter into Tier 2, allowing 2,000 fans to attend sports events.
An Arsenal statement read: “While we appreciate that reduced-capacity matches will be far from being ‘back to normal’, we can’t wait to welcome our fans back home for what will be a historic moment for the club.”
West Ham’s match against Manchester United on December 5 is set to be the first Premier League game to open its doors to supporters.
Brighton, Chelsea, Tottenham and Liverpool are the other teams in tier-two areas hosting games that weekend.
Brighton boss Graham Potter said: “The biggest relationship at the football club is the one between the supporters and the players. So to have them around, I think it is amazing for everybody and great for football.”
But Leeds boss Marcelo Bielsa, whose side are based in a tier-three area where fans remain banned from venues, believes it is unfair to allow supporters to return on a partial basis.
“It shouldn’t be about the category, or the consequences of being in a category, it should be about trying to maintain the competition as equal as possible with things that are controllable,” Bielsa said.
“The presence of fans has an effect on the results.”
Clubs in the English Football League (EFL) have been desperate to get fans back into stadiums, because they rely much more heavily on matchday revenue than Premier League sides backed by a lucrative television deal.
Leyton Orient chief executive Danny Macklin, whose League Two club is in a tier-two area, said: “Opening the gates will actually cost us money but it’s a price we are willing to pay to get fans in and this is step one.”
The EFL said in a statement that it would “continue to work with the government to ensure all clubs are able to welcome back fans, in larger numbers, as soon as it is can safely be achieved”.
The Rugby Football Union has announced it will be allowing 2,000 spectators into Twickenham for England’s final Autumn Nations Cup match on December 6.
The government staged a number of pilot events earlier this year, intending to allow a wider return of spectators from October 1.
However, it had to scrap those plans after a sharp rise in coronavirus infections.
Under the new system, up to 4,000 spectators are permitted to attend elite sports events in tier one but there are very few areas under that classification.
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