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Green light for return of football fans to stadiums is red herring for Newcastle United fans

10 months ago
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It has been announced on Monday (23 November 2020) that Newcastle United fans could shortly be allowed inside St James Park.

Indeed, some Newcastle United fans could be watching a match in the flesh in less than three weeks time.

However, this Government green light announcement for the return of football fans to stadiums, could still prove a red herring for NUFC supporters.

Boris Johnson today announced a number of changes, once the current virus restrictions end in 2 December 2020.

There will then be a return to a three tier system but with a number of changes.

With regard to football fans, it means that as from 3 December 2020 if you live in:

Tier One

A maximum of 4,000 fans will be allowed inside a stadium (no more than 50% of capacity allowed)

Tier Two

Up to 2,000 fans will be allowed (no more than 50% of capacity allowed)

Tier Three

No fans will be allowed

Boris Johnson was speaking today via video link to the House of Commons to outline the new measures as part of the government’s new virus restrictions in England and is set to give a public address live on TV tonight at 7pm.

MPs will then vote on the plans later this week.

Boris Johnson:

“In tiers one and two, spectator sports and business events will be free to resume inside and outside with capacity limits and social distancing.

“Later this week, we will announce which areas will fall into which tier, I hope on Thursday, based on analysis of cases in all age groups, especially the over-60s.

“Also, [it would involve] looking at the rate at which cases are rising or falling, the percentage of those tested in a local population who have Covid and current and projected pressures on the NHS.”

This is good news for football fans in general, however, for Newcastle United and indeed all other Premier League clubs, it may well be a red herring.

It is pretty obvious that the changes are aimed at helping those clubs below the Premier League, especially once you drop below the Championship.

For example, if you are a League One or Two club in a Tier One area with an 8,000 capacity stadium or bigger, if you allowed to have 4,000 fans back inside your stadium then that will likely be a massive step towards having your usual matchday revenue from ticket sales for many clubs.

Last season (2019/20) before fans were banned, in League Two only five clubs averaged 5,000 attendances or higher at home games, another eight averaged more than 4,000 but less than 5,000, with the other eleven averaging under 4,000 per home match (Stats source – World Football).

Hopefully these changes will help loads of smaller clubs, particularly those in the north east, such as Gateshead, Hartlepool and…Sunderland. Joking aside, difficult to see the Mackems being placed in Tier One, so at the very best they could hope for Tier two, so at the most they would be allowed 2,000 inside their 49,000 capacity stadium…not much use.

Which brings us to Newcastle United fans.

Before plans were scrapped by the Government for fans to return to stadiums on 1 October 2020, Newcastle United released an official statement (see below) on 13 September, saying they were working on plans for an initial return to St James Park of between 20% and 30% of capacity (10,000 – 15,000 fans).

Many other Premier League clubs reported the same, seeing 20% capacity as the very lowest numbers that would make a return of fans worthwhile (financially).

In other words if you are talking about allowing 2,000 or even 4,000 into St James Park, there wouldn’t be any money to be made, indeed at best it would probably be breaking even when taking into accounts all the extra costs to do with matchday staff and putting in place the necessary virus measures.

So no money to be made and any Premier League that would go along with 2,000 or 4,000 fans allowed into your stadium, it is really doing it as a service to your supporters, plus of course a first step of hopefully part of the learning curve of dealing with ever increasing numbers in the future being allowed into grounds.

Mike Ashley doing something purely as a favour / service to fans? You wouldn’t get your hopes up too much, would you?

When the trials were taking place in September and numbers allowed were lowered from 2,500 to 1,000, no Premier League clubs were interested as it wasn’t financially viable, clubs losing money if putting a trial on with fans in the stadium.

Like Sunderland, you can’t imagine Newcastle Upon Tyne being a Tier One city for some time to come, so it would be a 2,000 maximum allowed in, if Mike Ashley allows it to happen, unless of course Newcastle ends up Tier Three!

The definite date and time is yet to be confirmed but the weekend of Saturday 12 December with West Brom the visitors to St James Park, is potentially the first game some Newcastle fans might be able to attend.

Interesting to see what Mike Ashley’s response will be, if Newcastle stay out of Tier Three restrictions.

Newcastle United official announcement on arrangements for eventual return of fans – 13 September 2020:

‘Newcastle United hosted a virtual meeting with a small group of supporters this week to discuss the potential return of spectators to matches at St. James’ Park.

Following the coronavirus outbreak earlier this year, the Magpies’ final nine Premier League matches of the 2019/20 season and an Emirates FA Cup quarter-final against Manchester City all took place behind closed doors, as did Saturdays 2-0 win at West Ham United on the opening day of the 2020/21 campaign.

While the government is yet to formally grant approval or confirm prospective dates for the return of spectators, the Magpies and other clubs across the country are continuing to undertake detailed work behind the scenes to ensure appropriate procedures are in place as soon as it is safe for fans to be present.

Pilot events with significantly reduced capacities have also recently taken place in the UK, including a recent friendly fixture between Brighton and Chelsea at the Amex Stadium.

Representatives from Newcastle United Supporters Trust, NUFC Fans United, Newcastle Disabled Supporters Association (NUDSA), Newcastle United Supporters Club London and the club’s Fans Forum joined staff on the Zoom video platform on Tuesday evening to hear about the club’s ongoing planning and to offer their own feedback, ideas and questions as the process continues.

The club outlined its expectation that in the early stages of a return for fans, its capacity for home matches at St. James’ Park is likely to be significantly reduced.

Specialist software, data analysis and comprehensive guidance from relevant safety authorities indicate that around 10,000 – 15,000 seats will be available for home supporters, with the final number dependent on agreed seating configurations and the most up to date government guidelines on social gatherings and social distancing.

It is not anticipated that away supporters will be present in the early stages to minimise the risk of Covid-19 spreading.

It is expected that a large number of seats will need to remain unoccupied in order to achieve appropriate levels of social distancing, however the club is analysing ways to maximise seat availability while keeping safety as its absolute priority.

A range of associated subjects were discussed, including fair ways the club could allocate tickets, including a potential ballot for season ticket holders. With a significantly reduced capacity and social distancing an essential requirement, season ticket holders will not be guaranteed their usual seats if they are successful in obtaining tickets, however the club is intending to make best endeavours to allocate seats in equivalent seating categories.

The group also discussed safety and security measures that will help to keep attendees safe, potential changes to available facilities including catering and how the club will be ramping up relevant communications to all supporters both before any tickets sales or ballots and in the build-up to individual matchdays.

The club would like to sincerely thank the supporters who participated in the meeting for sharing their views and for contributing to the ongoing planning process.

The club will be offering further feedback to the group once plans are finalised and comprehensive information will be announced and issued to all supporters in due course.’

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