November 27 – Top-flight English clubs will be split down the middle when it comes to welcoming back fans for the first time in more than eight months after the current national lockdown ends next week.
Following the government’s announcement of a three-tiered safety system, exactly half the 20 clubs found themselves in areas of the country plunged into the strictest Covid-19 category where no fans will be allowed.
Tier 1 venues are allowed 4,000 fans though not a single Premier League club falls into that category. Tier 2 permits 2,000 spectators but Tier 3 venues must still play behind closed doors.
Fans have been absent since March but on Dec 5, Liverpool and London, both ranked in Tier 2 areas, will have a limited number back through the turnstiles. That weekend, Liverpool play Wolves while Tottenham Hotspur meet Arsenal in always mouth-watering north London derby.
By contrast, Manchester and Birmingham are in Tier 3 areas, meaning there will be no home fans at Manchester United or Manchester City, for instance.
In total, the 10 clubs where no fans will be permitted, at least until the first government review on December 16, will be Aston Villa, Burnley, Leeds, Leicester, Manchester City, Manchester United, Newcastle, Sheffield United, West Bromwich and Wolves.
Arsenal will be the first top-flight club to have fans back in any competition when they play Rapid Vienna in the Europa League next Thursday.
“We can’t wait to welcome our fans back home for what will be a historic moment for the club,” they said.
But Newcastle’s manager, Steve Bruce, criticised the whole setup.
“Why only 2,000 or 4,000 fans in tier 2 or 1 when we have the capacity to safely house 20,000 at St James’ Park [capacity just over 52,000]? I think that’s unfair,” he said.
His Leeds counterpart, Marcelo Bielsa, suggested some teams were receiving an advantage.
“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,” he said. “The presence of fans has an effect on the results.”
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