Connor Southwell: Welcome back, City fans - but is now the right time?
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
February 28 was the last time the seats were occupied by Norwich City supporters at Carrow Road.
It’s fair to say that a lot has happened since that 1-0 win over Leicester City and football has become a television show - with a screen preventing that real connection that being in the terrace provides.
That’s why the news of a return for a very limited amount of supporters is welcomed, because football has felt like a surreal simulation since it restarted in June.
Prior to saying anything, yes, there are caveats and downsides. Not every City season ticket will be able to attend: some do consider it to be too early but hopefully a pilot will begin the road back to normality.
It’s been bleak. As death tolls continue to rise and the predictions of a second wave intensify, then some are right to pose questions surrounding the safety and voice their public health concerns.
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Some will feel as though they cannot take their seats or return at this present moment. They are right to do that in the same way as those who do wish to attend.
After months of bleakness, of endurance and of hopelessness, a prospective, phased and socially distanced return to watching their beloved football team will create a feeling of hope.
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Football isn’t a matter of life or death like Bill Shankley once uttered, but it is a matter of incredible importance to some.
Against a backdrop of devastation, football has always stood as a beacon of hope and escapism. It is the place that unites and sees supporters place their differences to the side to support one shared ambition - a victory for their football team.
Some people who have felt lonely and isolated during this period will be relishing the return, to belong and to feel that connection with their football club again.
There are concerns - infections across the country continue to rise and the end isn’t in sight as of yet, but right now it’s about drawing the positives.
Those inside the walls of Carrow Road who have been devising the preparations are delighted. The Canaries staff have worked tirelessly, consulting with fans, speaking to safety advisory groups and drawing up plans.
But there will still be losers. Some fans won’t be permitted to attend and until Carrow Road is full again, football won’t feel the same.
Some will even question, legitimately, whether as a country we are at a stage where these events can be tested - but those at Carrow Road have worked relentlessly to ensure those supporters who do attend remain as safe as possible.
Financially, clubs are at a stage where the return of fans is pivotal to their long-term future. On a day when Macclesfield Town saw their club wound up over debts of £500,000, other clubs are keen to share their necessity for supporters to return.
City have managed their finances to the extent that a loss on a 1,000-supporter limit attending a game is a pill worth swallowing for the greater good.
Others in the Championship and lower down the pyramid have passed on plans to hold a game - with the cost of facilitating the fixture with those fans in attendance being far greater than behind closed doors.
Realistically, to make profit, those numbers need to be driven up. That is why getting supporters in stadiums for pilot events is seen as so crucial - and why City are so delighted that this is the first step onto a ladder that may prove difficult to climb.
In League One, Bristol Rovers declined a chance to host a test event due to the financial ramifications. Rovers find themselves with a 50pc deficit owed to the coronavirus pandemic.
So City are one of the lucky ones, but the message to those supporters will be clear: if you want this to become a viable step on a larger scale, then obey the rules.
All of this has happened against a backdrop of a surge in coronavirus cases, it contradicts the messages being given as fears of a second wave increase.
Football will need to be seen to be getting it right. Any outbreak that stems from one of these events will see the process halted altogether.
Life behind closed doors has lacked intensity and pressure. Three points don’t seem as hard-fought and even a handful of supporters returning will hopefully inject those elements back into professional football.
It may even give City a competitive advantage given it’ll be only Canaries fans who occupy those seats. It will be a sight to behold come Saturday.