COMMENT: What was it like to have fans back again - and was it a success?

The Cobblers hardly walked into the most intimidating of atmospheres at Shrewsbury Town on Saturday but the mere sight of football fans back inside a football ground was one for sore eyes.

Monday, 21st September 2020, 12:18 pm
Socially-distanced Shrewsbury fans watch their team in action against the Cobblers.

This League One fixture between Shrewsbury and Northampton at New Meadow was one of seven EFL pilot events to take place on Saturday as 1,000 fans were permitted entry and it was a significant step forward in the aim to return crowds safely.

Having supporters back in stadiums is crucial to EFL clubs, particularly those in League One and League Two. It is the main source of income for many so if stands remain empty for the foreseeable future, it is hard to see how some clubs can survive, let alone continue to play behind closed doors.

Fans, of course, are desperate to be back cheering their teams too, so the importance of getting these test events right can't be underestimated, which is why Shrewsbury went to great lengths to ensure guidelines were followed and supporters remained safe.

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The event on Saturday was well-organised. Donned in masks, all fans had their temperature taken prior to entering the stadium as they slowly filtered in through two entry points before being guided to their allocated seats in the main stand.

A one-way system was in place to direct fans to and from the toilet and then again on exit. Supporters were also told to remain seated at half-time and then again after full-time to allow for an orderly and socially-distanced exit. Shouting was advised against.

The atmosphere, clearly, was different to a typical football match. There was less noise and more polite applause than usual but just to have those familiar sounds again - the oohs and aahs, the cheers and the groans - made it a far more enjoyable spectacle.

Allison Harvey, a Shrewsbury fan who was in attendance, told Radio 5Live: "The club have worked really hard to get us back and we were fortunate to be there. It was a bit weird and a strange atmosphere.

Fans were strongly advised to wear masks

"We all had to wear a mask and we still tried to make a noise even though we weren't allowed to shout! Credit to the club for putting it on."

It's not what we have become accustomed to but if this is the new normal for the foreseeable future, so be it. It's better than nothing and the benefits are significant, even if capacities will be severely reduced. Fans are able to watch their teams again and clubs don't lose out on much-needed income.

How was it to play in front of fans again? “It was brilliant seeing them here," said Shrewsbury's Shaun Whalley. "We’re experiencing very strange times at the minute so it was great to see fans here.

"I just wish we could have got the win for them but hopefully next time, we can have the same if not more down here and hopefully get a win next time as well.”

These remain difficult and uncertain times but Saturday showed that it is possible to have supporters back in grounds whilst staying safe. Hopefully a permanent return is not far away.