Following on from an exhilarating and novel Champions and Europa League format which took place in Portugal and Germany, the season has climaxed, the players have had ample time to book a staycation or in Harry Maguire’s instance, get arrested in Greece, and with a round of completely unnecessary National League International Fixtures, we’re ready for the big leagues in Europe to once again kick-off.
This article takes a look at the possible return dates of fans into stadiums for Europe’s big five leagues.
How things will change?
Whilst fans will likely return to stadiums in some capacity for the majority of European leagues, things are likely to be normal for quite a while – until there is a vaccine pretty much.
The Premier League for example will likely prioritise season ticket holders returning first, and then club members and then the general public. Second of all, it’s been widely reported in the British press than away fans will be banned from matches with a few to restrict the amount of travel around the country and to continue enforcing social distancing – especially in the event of local lockdowns.
There are suggestions that football fans entering stadiums will need to sign or agree to a code of conduct which puts them on their best behaviour including… no signing! Already previously “banned” from places of Worship and for parts of the BBC Proms, it’s intended to reduce the spread of any infectious droplets which project further when the voice is raised.
It does beg the question whether or not “artificial crowd noise” will be continued to pump into audio feeds for people watching at home and around the world, and based on the lack of signing, you have to imagine it will surely continue being the case until either more fans are allowed in, or the small minority are allowed to sing again!
Last of all, the nature of having a cheeky flutter at the match will also change now slightly. It’s thought that non-essential kiosks will remain closed and there will be limited entertainment within the concourse which is dark, covered and ripe for close contact and infections. Instead fans may instead choose to visit football betting sites to do their weekly “acca”. Not only does it encourage social distancing, sometimes you can even find better odds than at the stadium including several free betting offers.
With that covered, let’s take a quick preview at the ETA for the big five leagues…
The Big Five Leagues
England – Premier League
In certain parts of the UK there is a visible lack of concern about Coronavirus and the general response from the Government has certainly helped cultivate a rather laissez-faire attitude amongst some of the population with accusations that initially the government’s strategy was around “herd immunity”, and some very conflicting and contradictory advice around whether or not it was safe to go out.
Assuming no further spike in cases, the October 3rd is set to be the date for returning fans with some of the capacities greatly reduced. Burnley’s stadium will only allow 5,820 fans inside whereas Old Trafford with it’s usual 80k+ capacity will be reduced to 20,590!
A quick rule of thumb or way of calculating it is to almost reduce it by one quarter…although Daniel Levy suggests Tottenham Hotspur could easily accommodate 30k fans safely, in their 61k capacity ground.
Expected date: October 3rd 2020
Germany – Bundesliga
As you could expect, Germany has taken a slower and more pragmatic approach to dealing with Coronavirus and there were originally discussions at the start of August about whether or not fans would be allowed to return at the start of the season on 15th September. Currently politicians have erred on the side of caution and it is now believed the German league may wait until the current ban expires on October 31st – Halloween.
Expected date: October 31st 2020
France – Ligue 1
France holds the rare distinction of being the only league out of the big five to prematurely conclude, without games played on the pitch. Controversially they devices to take the league positions as they currently stood which meant Amiens and Toulouse were relegated – not without a challenge from the high court with both clubs initially thinking they had been granted a reprieve before it was overruled less than 2 weeks later.
Whilst Ligue 1 finished early, fans are currently allowed in stadiums which suggests they are dealing with the virus well. Another positive which some rival teams noted is that Paris Saint-Germain were particularly well rested for their remaining Champions League fixtures, as they brushed assigned a fatigued Atalanta side before losing the final to Bayern Munich by a single goal to nil.
Expected Date: Already allowed – up to 5,000 fans are permitted to sporting events.
Spain – La Liga
La Liga were one of the first leagues in Europe to draft up plans for fans to return including a 16 page protocol with 15 minute arrival slots for different ticket holders, but so far progress has been quiet. They were also one of the first leagues to embrace the use of technology to “improve” the spectacle at home with CGI crowds added to the broadcasts for some matches with mixed reception on social media and inevitable comparisons to early PlayStation graphics.
Fans in Spain will certainly be itching to get back into stadiums this season, as it could be the last campaign that Lionel Messi features for Barcelona at the Nou Camp.
If 2020 couldn’t throw up any more bad news, fans of Spanish football and particularly from Catalonia were potentially distraught at the prospect of Messi leaving on a free transfer following a lack of faith in the Barcelona project following on from a 8-2 thrashing by Bayern Munich in an exhilarating 2-8 performance in the quarter-finals of the champions league.
Expected date: Currently unknown – CGI Fans only!
Italy – Serie A
Finally we have Italy who were initially one of the worst impacted countries in the world, particularly the Northern region of Lombardy. When the outbreak was in full swing and the country was setting a strict example for the rest of Europe in terms of lockdowns and minimal social contact, it was almost impossible to imagine the Serie A season resuming.
At the time, Serie A was playing out one of it’s most thrilling seasons in recent memories with Lazio going toe to toe with Juventus for the Scudetto, haven masterfully beaten them at the Stadio Olimpico back in December. There was also a resurgent Inter Milan side guided by Antonio Conte, as well as Atalanta, the small team from Bergamo who once again punched well above their weight having qualified for the Champions League for the first time in their history.
Overall Juventus proved to be good for their competition with the season playing out in an anti-climatic fashion. As for the 2020/21 season, there is optimism that fans could be permitted back into stadiums in time for the start of the season with the likes of the Bianconeri, Napoli and Sampdoria playing in front of 1,000 fans during pre-season friendlies.
Expected date: Late September – capped to 1,000