‘Positive news’ - end to fans’ 9-month Portman Road absence welcomed
- Credit: Picture: Steve Waller
Relaxed coronavirus rules which could see 4,000 Ipswich Town fans allowed back at Portman Road after a nine-month absence have been welcomed - but some “unanswered questions” remain, supporters have warned.
Ipswich MP Tom Hunt had been calling on the government to overturn its ban on fans entering elite sports stadiums before the second lockdown.
So the Conservative was delighted when prime minister Boris Johnson confirmed outdoor stadiums in Tier 1 of the new restrictions, coming into force from December 2, would be allowed to admit up to 4,000 people.
Even outdoor venues in Tier 2 areas will be allowed to admit up to 2,000 people, which means Town fans could be back in Portman Road for the Blues’ home game against Portsmouth on Saturday, December 12.
Ipswich Town club secretary Stuart Hayton welcomed the “positive news”, adding after the prime minister’s statement: “A lot of hard work still lies ahead but the announcement today will give everyone a lot of encouragement.”
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He said a lot of effort had already gone on behind the scenes to prepare for the return of supporters for the first time since March 7.
Mr Hunt said the move “will allow fans to get back into the stadium and cheer on the club they love”.
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He added: “For many of my constituents, going to a game in the stadium is part of what they do and part of their life, and not being able to do that has been a big blow to them.”
Mr Hunt said there would be “issues that need to be managed”, adding: “It’s not just about social distancing in the stadium.
“There will have to thought given to how people get to the stadium.”
However, he added: “I met with the club in September and they felt confident they could manage things in a safe way and that there would be adequate social distancing.”
Mr Hunt also said the move would help many clubs financially.
However Mark Ramsay, chairman of Ipswich Town FC Supporters’ Club, said there were a “lot of unanswered questions”.
He added: “We need to know which tier we’re going to be in. Whether clubs can effectively pre-plan without knowing which tier they’re going be in, I don’t know.”
He hopes long-term season ticket holders will be given priority over the limited number of seats available, given they are the club’s most loyal fans.
He also hopes to see a “tiered arrival system, so too many people don’t arrive at the same time”.
An EFL spokesman said after Mr Johnson’s statement to Parliament: “The EFL welcomes today’s decision by the government.
“We now look forward to the re-opening of some EFL club stadiums as we finally welcome back fans after eight long months away.
“Whilst today’s news is subject to regional restrictions, it is an important step in achieving a return to normal, alongside it being crucial to addressing the significant revenue gap left by a lack of spectators and other revenue streams as a result of the pandemic.
“The restrictions in place do mean that not all clubs will get the opportunity straight away to re-open their turnstiles and we still await further guidance from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) to understand what areas will be placed in which tier which will not be available until later this week.
“In the meantime we are doing all we can to ensure we are ready to return when allowed to do so.
“Having worked closely in developing the appropriate safety guidance in conjunction with DCMS and the SGSA, alongside undertaking a series of pilot events hosting up to 1,000 spectators in September, EFL clubs have already demonstrated that they are well positioned to deliver the safe return of fans
“Exit analysis shows that those who attended pilot fixtures felt overwhelmingly safe and adhered to the necessary protocols and the EFL will continue its work with clubs to ensure that they have the most up to-date safety procedures in place to welcome supporters back as soon as the relevant restrictions are lifted.”