It has been brilliant to see football fans back at matches and hopefully this is just the start of a full return to normality in the not-too-distant future. I think the last nine months have proved how important fans are to the game. Without atmosphere it is not the same product for those attending and those watching on TV around the world and also those playing!
It does seem likely that the Covid vaccine will start to be rolled out for the most vulnerable groups before Christmas which opens up the possibility of an immunisation programme being in full swing by the spring.
In the meantime I believe clubs have proved that they can safely house more than the 2,000/4,000 supporter limits that apply currently. I would hope that the Government will allow these limits to be increased before the Christmas/New Year period.
I attended the Charlton v MK Dons fixture (awful game for a home fan!) and the club did a brilliant job in organising the whole event. Yes, there were frustrations on the night, but the vast majority of people accepted why restrictions had been put in place. Fans were required to arrive at the stadium on a staggered basis so in my case I was required to be in my seat by 6.30pm (the match kicked off at 7.45pm). All fans were given a hot chocolate drink on arrival but had to take their drink to their seat. If you wanted to use the toilet you had to use the hand sanitiser first and entry was controlled. Once in your seat you were asked repeatedly over the tannoy to wear your face mask and 99% of fans did. Once the match was over fans were asked to remain in their seats and the stadium exit process was done church style with the front rows exiting first and block by block in each stand. This caused the most frustration and I impatience but that had probably more to do with the result more than anything else.
Having watched matches on TV there does seem to be inconsistency in the way clubs are managing the return of fans. I think it is incumbent on the PL and EFL to have a consistent approach and to establish universal protocols. I for one don’t think you should have to wear a mask when seated in the open air, but I do accept that on entry and exit and when using the toilet, you must put your mask on.
Whilst on the point of consistency there were issues at the weekend with the pre-match taking of the knee. The highest profile of the incidents was the significant level of booing at Millwall but there were issues at West Ham and Colchester also. My previous story on here, about the Millwall issue was written because I have a senior role there and will be part of the discussions with Kick it Out this week. For what it’s worth I agree with Les Ferdinand that the whole debate should be about effecting change and defeating racism in all its guises and not gestures. It would be good if the authorities involved in football gave support and advice rather than simply criticise clubs when I can see first-hand how much good work is taking place.
Working together is the answer not working alone.
Peter Varney – Chairman Integral Sports Management
Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Guardian