Premier League clubs have expressed frustration at the 2,000 limit on fans despite their huge stadiums and the detailed safety plans, which are in place.
Clubs were this week given the go ahead to allow up to 2,000 supporters back into their stadiums, depending upon local restrictions due to the coronavirus pandemic.
But as they struggle to work out how to share the limited tickets fairly the clubs are also disappointed that there is still a lack of clarity from government on how it intends to increase attendances when coronavirus infection rates start to fall.
The top-tier want to see a road map that sets out the steps needed to increase attendances, first to around 10,000 fans, and then up to 30% total capacity.
Even the country’s largest stadiums are limited to 2,000 fans when lockdown ends next week
Asked about government plans and progress on increasing capacity, which some reports have suggested could happen in January, one insider told Sportsmail: ‘That is something we would like to know, because the road map is going to be crucial.’
The elite clubs recognise the importance of fans returning, even in small numbers, and they are appreciative of the Department for Culture Media and Sport and Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden for pushing it through.
But previously, clubs developed plans to bring in fans safely up to 30% of the stadium’s capacity using social distancing, which was in accordance with the requirements of the Sports Ground Safety Authority.
‘We want to get back into those conversations,’ said the insider. ‘What is required to get capacities in line those guidelines?’
Clubs want to see what comes next, which is widely expected to include the use of rapid turnaround testing to ensure fans have the all-clear before attending matches.
Except for a few test events clubs in the Premier League and EFL have had no fans since March
Testing has been a focus of the Sports Technology and Innovation Group, which was set up by the Department of Culture Media and Sport, with the intention of securing the return of fans to sports events in large numbers. However, group’s progress since it started work with some fanfare in September is unclear.
‘[The group] continues to explore technological solutions to get fans back into sports grounds,’ a spokeswoman for the Sports Ground Safety Authority told Sportsmail, but she declined to expand on its work.
Manchester United has previously said it has identified a safe,socially distanced capacity of 23,5000 fans at Old Trafford, which holds 76,000 spectators when full.
Among the other top flight stadiums, Newcastle’s St James Park holds 52,000, although since the city is currently classified as tier three in the government’s regional coronavirus restrictions announced on Thursday, no supporters can attend elite sport in that area.
Brighton held a test event against Chelsea and showed fans could watch football safely
‘What I can’t quite digest at the moment is why only 4,000 or 2,000 when we’ve got the capacity to… comfortably put 15,000 to 20,000 people in,’ said Toon manager, Steve Bruce on Thursday, summing up what many others are thinking.
West Ham’s London Stadium has a capacity of 80,000, the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium 62,000 and Arsenal’s Emirates stadium, 60,000. And yet they can still only admit 2,000 supporters,
Staging Premier League matches in a large stadium with just 2,000 fans is believed to cost the clubs around £500,000, Sportsmail revealed on Friday.
But it is not just the money. The clubs face an impossible task trying to accommodate fans and sponsors with a limit of 2,000.
Premier League clubs are frustrated despite detailed safety plans only 2,000 fans are allowed
They are frustrated because some point out there is no fair way to distribute such a small number of tickets amoung tens of thousands of loyal followers, some of whom have not missed a game in decades.
‘We can accommodate more than 2,000 safely,’ said an exasperated official. ‘There has been so much work done.’
Whitehall sources have told Sportsmail that the public needs to see football do a good job with small attendances to build confidence before attendances can increase.
The challenge for the clubs has been even greater because teams in all divisions have had little time to prepare.
Spurs will host Arseanlal on Sunday December 6 with 2,000 fans in a 60,000-seat stadium
Rick Parry, the EFL chairman, admitted the decision to allow fans back next week, while welcome, has ‘taken everyone a bit by surprise’ and Sportsmail understands the Premier League were also taken aback.
‘The Premier League were given the impression from government at the start of the week that they were looking at fans coming back for Christmas,’ said another well-placed source. By Monday evening they were coming back the following week.
All those club’s in tier two areas, which are allowed up to 2,000 fans according to the new regional restrictions, are now grappling with the same ticketing issues and they are finding the best solutions they can.
West Ham versus Manchester Unities will be the first game in front of fans after lockdown
The 2,000 tickets for Arsenal’s Europa League group game against Rapid Vienna at the Emirates on Thursday next week will be sold on a first come first served basis from Saturday morning.
The club abandoned a ballot process because of the short notice, and now Gold and Premium Members, who made their initial payment and registered for the ballot in September, will have to be on speed dial from 9am to obtain a ticket.
Tottenham Hotspur have announced they will distribute tickets proportionately between season ticket holders, premium members and other stakeholders for their home game with Arsenal on Sunday December 5.
In the Championship, Wycombe Wanderers are waiting on a decision on Monday from their local Safety Advisory Group, which is expected to give the go ahead for fans to attend their game with Stoke City on Wednesday evening. The club will then only have 48 hours to distribute tickets.
Premier League Fixtures Dec 5-6-7
Saturday 5 December
12:30 Burnley v Everton (BT Sport)
15:00 Man City v Fulham (BT Sport)
17:30 West Ham v Man Utd (Sky Sports) with fans
20:00 Chelsea v Leeds Utd (Sky Sports) with fans
Sunday 6 December
12:00 West Brom v Crystal Palace (Sky Sports)
14:15 Sheffield Utd v Leicester City (Sky Sports)
16:30 Spurs v Arsenal (Sky Sports) with fans
19:15 Liverpool v Wolves (Amazon Prime Video) with fans
Monday 7 December
20:00 Brighton v Southampton (Sky Sports) with fans