How do fans cope with the decision that stadiums are still being closed to the audience?

Back in August, it all seemed oh so promising. With Covid-19 on a downturn, politicians and fans alike were positive about spectators returning to football grounds by October 3. Journalists at TalkSport were even lamenting that the one-metre rule meant ‘only’ 20,590 would be allowed at Old Trafford. 

Then reality hit. 

Boris thumbled through yet another press conference, and the message was clear: put your plans to watch football live on the backburner. The thought that we ever dreamed of stepping inside a ground this side of 2020 suddenly seemed laughable. 

So how have fans been coping? Short answer: painfully.   

The #LetFansIn Campaign

If there is one campaign that underlines what fans think about the Covid-19 restrictions and football, it’s the #LetFansIn campaign that’s been trending on Twitter in the past few days. 

What fans are really annoyed about is that a code of conduct and clear guidelines make visiting football grounds as safe (if not safer) than other public activities that are currently allowed under government regulations. 

These guidelines were developed in conjunction with scientific experts and rubber stamped by the government’s own Sports Grounds Safety Authority. Fans are left wondering what else they need to do to be allowed back. 

Perhaps the most frustrating thing is that other countries have already started letting fans in, and there is absolutely no evidence that it is causing a spike in transmission rates. Now I’m not arguing that we should go back to full tilt, but surely a pilot scheme should be considered by the Prime Minister? 

This is not just about fans enjoying the Premier League and other competitions in all their glory. Clubs lower down the divisions rely on gate receipts. Without that revenue stream, it’s a very real possibility that many famous clubs will be at risk of going under. 

No Fans = Unpredictable Results

There is one trend that empty stadiums seem to have brought into existence: wholly unpredictable results. Aston Villa beat the defending champions Liverpool with a PlayStation scoreline of 7-2. Tottenham destroyed ManU with a similarly unbelievable scoreline of 6-1. 

In this year’s Premier League, minnows are beating juggernauts, goals are flying in like nobody’s business, and bookies have struggled to set the odds on matches. They’re pretty much playing at an online casino themselves at this stage; it’s all complete guesswork. Seriously, how much would a double on those two results have got you? Probably as much as a punt on Leicester back in 2015. 

Maybe that’s the one single positive development of empty stadiums. We’re getting to see players without the fan pressure jitters, managers are able to yell audible directions to their teams, and defensive concentration seems to only exist when people are in attendance. It’s not quite a silver lining, but in a horrid 2020, I’ll take it. 

£14.95 to Watch Your Favorite Team?!

When the Premier League resumed after the initial lockdown, all games were streamed via the usual channels (Sky, BT, and Amazon for UK fans) without subscribers incurring an extra fee. Some matches were even being shown for free on the BBC. 

This was a very welcome development, giving fans a chance to watch all matches (yes, even the 3PM fixtures). It’s been a fantastic coping mechanism to forget I’m watching it all with fake fan noise (and, due to restrictions, largely on my own). 

If fans felt this was the advent of the Premier League caring about more than just the bottom line for once, they were sadly mistaken. Earlier this week, the mask came off (excuse the pun) and the true nature of the ‘suits’ of the PL was once again revealed. 

It came in the form of £14.95 Pay Per View. We can’t watch football live, so what does the PL decide to do? Charge us through the roof. The UK already has some of the most expensive telly setups for football fans, and now they’ve added insult to injury. 

The thing is this: the matches that aren’t part of the usual schedule on BT Sport, Sky, or Amazon will incur a one-off charge of £14.95 per match. Fans are already up in arms, and the online pressure has been immense. The Daily Mail has even speculated that it could lead to a U-turn on behalf of the league.  

Personally, I feel this is a true kick in the teeth to us fans. We already pay loads for subscriptions, season tickets, replica shirts, the lot, and instead of rewarding our loyalty, we are slapped with an additional charge. Listen, I get the clubs need to make money, but is the existing television deal (i.e. the most expensive in history) not enough? 

When Will the Nightmare End?

Perhaps the toughest aspect of stadium closures is the sheer uncertainty of the entire situation. Fans are just like regular people (who would have thought, huh?). We want to do what’s best for people’s health and want to see the back of Covid-19 as quickly as possible. If it means staying away from football grounds, then so be it. 

But the problem is that government policies seem to be haphazard at best, and outright ridiculous at worst. They don’t appear to be entirely based on scientific data, ministers change their minds as often as they change their underwear, and there is no end yet visible on the horizon. 

And that’s what hurts; the not knowing. When will we get our football back?