Football fans return: Six supporters’ stories as crowds back at English league football

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Luton fans celebrate one of their three goals against Norwich at Kenilworth Road

It was the moment many football fans had been waiting almost nine months for – the return to their beloved clubs.

As coronavirus restrictions were eased in some areas of England, a limited number of fans were allowed into six games in the Football League – plus one in National League North – to watch their teams on Wednesday night.

Six fans told BBC Sport about the experience.

‘An emotional night’ – Phil Dowty, Luton fan

Luton fan Phil Dowty
Luton fan Phil Dowty watched his side beat Championship leaders Norwich

Luton 3-1 Norwich, Championship

An emotional night, finally back at Kenilworth Road. I was absolutely buzzing to be back as it has been too long. It was a strange experience with all the restrictions but just great to see the boys.

They took my temperature as I came in, there were stewards everywhere telling you where to go. Hopefully more fans will be allowed back in soon.

‘Football is a means of socialising’ – Stavros Demetriades, Charlton fan

Charlton 0-1 MK Dons, League One

The thought of a football night out finally and seeing some old school mates again as well as some other familiar faces (socially distanced, of course) was appealing and exciting after so long away.

Football is important as a means of socialising and it’s also a form of escapism as it helps you focus for a couple of hours on things other than everyday life issues.

It felt like home-from-home and, although a little surreal with only 2,000 people in attendance, it was wonderful to be back after so long away.

The atmosphere at kick off was good and noisy considering the attendance, but it felt somewhat surreal being able to hear the players as well as both managers having heated discussions with the fourth official during the game.

Apart from the disappointing result, it was really enjoyable and the event was extremely well managed by all at Charlton Athletic – from an email in the morning outlining the protocol to managing the staggered exit of all the fans at the end. Here’s to the next match at The Valley.

‘Seeing the floodlights raises the excitement level – Terry Wilby, Cambridge United fan

Cambridge United 0-1 Mansfield Town, League Two

I am one of the CFU (Cambridge Fans United supporters trust) volunteers, so I was at the Abbey by 6:30pm. Seeing the floodlights all lit up as I walked to the ground brings back the memories and raises the excitement level.

I was stationed outside the South Stand turnstiles to check people had a face mask, to point out the arrows on the floor they should follow and remind them to keep a safe distance from others. Everyone seemed happy .

Social distancing in seated areas is fairly easy to maintain but on terracing it is a little harder: when you want to talk to your mate and there is noise all around it is natural to move closer to hear (especially when wearing a face mask!). The other thing is that it is harder to recognise your mates when they are wearing a mask!

With a one-way system there were people who were a little annoyed they had to walk along the front of the stand then along the back to get to the portaloos, which were just a few yards away from where they were standing.

On the plus side, the ability to tell the referee he had made a mistake is so satisfying after watching so many games shouting at the TV!

At the end it felt a bit like a pre-season friendly, in that the result was not important in the greater scheme of things. The fact we were able to watch a game meant we all won, although three points would have been nice!

‘Tonight was about a lot more than the result’ – Callum Watterson, Southport fan

Fans back at Southport
Southport fans were allowed back to watch their National League North match against Farsley Celtic

Southport 0-1 Farsley Celtic, National League North

It’s a cliche, but tonight was about a lot more than the result, it was about getting behind an important part of our local community.

It was a wet, dark, December night, but it was good to have something back from my old life. In terms of atmosphere, there were probably about 500-600 fans in total, out of a maximum safe capacity of 800. The covered standing terrace I was in probably had about 120 fans in it.

Fans had face coverings on while walking around the ground and most kept them on even when stood in their spot. Singing and chanting was permitted, but we were told in the short and informative pre-match safety briefing that we must have our coverings on while doing so – so most fans just kept them on for the whole time anyway.

The general mood was a little bit subdued, but I don’t know if that was down to a sense of shock at returning or a bit of an anti-climatic match.

Overall, tonight felt like a step towards getting back to something like a normal life, without getting too ahead of myself. It may be a long road ahead, but it felt ever so slightly closer tonight.

‘Superb to be back’ – Warwick Monk, Southport fan

Southport fans
Southport fan Warwick Monk (left) returned to watch his club after almost nine months away

Southport 0-1 Farsley Celtic

We thought a lot of season ticket holders didn’t turn up – but we do have a very large OAP following at Southport so I can totally understand they’re being very cautious coming back. I’m sure once the vaccine comes out in the next few months that they will gain confidence and slowly return.

It was so good to be back in our beautiful stadium with my bubble of friends. Watching football live compared to the streaming we’ve had from the club is so much more rewarding because of the atmosphere and the banter with your mates around you. Masks had to be worn on the way in and out. You could take them off when sat down but I would say most people kept them on for the whole match.

Awful match and result, but boy oh boy was it good to be back with the Main Stand moaners!

‘A safe environment’ – Roger Watson, Cambridge fan

Cambridge United 0-1 Mansfield Town, League Two

Firstly, it was great to be able to watch a live match even if the result could have been better.

The organisation by the club was first class. There were clear directions to your allocated seat, no issues with social distancing and regular announcements reminding you of the need to socially distance. At the end of the match the fans were told when to leave so again avoiding a build up of fans anywhere. Face masks were compulsory but no-one objected to this. On the whole it seemed a safe environment.

The atmosphere was so much better than watching from home and hopefully all clubs will be able to welcome fans sooner rather than later.

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