Arsenal will be first Premier League side to see fans return but many must wait


Fans will next week return to the Emirates, the London Stadium and Twickenham in limited numbers but many grounds, including at half of all Premier League clubs, will remain closed.

The government’s new coronavirus restrictions left 51 of the 104 clubs across the Premier League, EFL and Women’s Super League able to host a maximum of 2,000 supporters. All the Premier League teams in the south plus those in Liverpool can welcome back fans. The Leeds manager, Marcelo Bielsa, claimed clubs unable to do so were being “penalised”.

Arsenal’s Europa League tie against Rapid Vienna next Thursday will be the first competitive match featuring a Premier League side to have supporters present since March. The club announced tickets would be available on a “first come, first served basis” to gold and platinum members only, and said: “We can’t wait to welcome our fans back home for what will be a historic moment for the club.”

West Ham v Manchester United on Saturday 5 December will be the first Premier League match to welcome supporters, though Manchester United will not be able to host fans because they are among the clubs under tier 3 restrictions which prohibit attendance at elite sport events.

Bielsa was unimpressed by the news, suggesting that Leeds and many other clubs were being treated unfairly.

“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.

“What the organisation says is people who are from places where there’s a higher risk of infection, it means they will be penalised.”

In rugby union, 400 of the 2,000 tickets for England’s Autumn Nations Cup final match on 6 December will be handed to NHS workers, the RFU confirmed, after Twickenham was cleared to allow crowds. Seven Premiership clubs will be able admit fans too, with Worcester the first to do so against Bath on 5 December.

In horse racing there are hopes that several important meetings before the end of the year will be able to admit punters. Sandown, Cheltenham and Kempton, which have major fixtures in the next month, are in tier 2 areas, as is Ascot, which has an important Saturday raceday just before Christmas.

Clubs across different sports will be in discussion with their local safety advisory groups over the details of ensuring events are Covid-secure, and the government confirmed it would be up to individual sports to decide on certain aspects of their policies, including the wearing of masks.

The EFL, which will not be moving matches next week to enable fans to attend, wants supporters to be able to do without masks in outdoor areas. It is set to confirm a policy in the next 48 hours. The Racecourse Association has asked that fans attending meetings wear a mask “at all times” except when eating or drinking.