Test during Brighton friendly gives City fans hope of Carrow Road return
- Credit: PA
The first steps back towards normal life were taken in English professional football this weekend, as just over 2,500 spectators were allowed to watch Brighton draw 1-1 with Chelsea in a friendly on Saturday.
Supporters were allowed at the Amex Stadium with strict social distancing measures in place around the ground and for seating in the sparsely populated stands.
The pre-season game was part of a number of pilot events announced by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport for a phased return of spectators following the ban on mass gatherings introduced in March due to the coronavirus outbreak.
There were plenty of hand sanitisation points on the approaches to the ground, while face coverings were also required for fans while they were queueing to get in, although not while seated.
A digital match ticket was scanned for entry into the stadium, with cashless transactions at kiosks and there was signage reminding fans of the need to regularly wash hands.
Norwich City are likely to start their season behind closed doors but chief operating officer Ben Kensell explained earlier this month that club bosses were hoping to welcome up to 6,000 fans back to Carrow Road for test events, possibly in September.
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The Canaries are understood to still be waiting for firm guidance from the government ahead of the planned return of crowds to sporting events in October.
This will require careful planning, with the aim of season ticket holders who wish to attend being able to go to at least one game per month but rebates being available for games which can’t be attended.
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City start their Championship season at Huddersfield on Saturday, September 12 but have home games against Preston (September 19) and Derby (October 3) ahead of the first international break.
However, victory at Luton in the first round of the League Cup on Saturday could also lead to other home games, with the second, third and fourth rounds all due to be played in midweek in September due to the late start to the campaign.
Conference, meeting and event facilities at Carrow Road are due to open at the start of October and the club’s retail stores at the stadium and in Norwich city centre are already back in operation, six days a week.
It was announced earlier this week that all matches not being screened live by Sky Sports will be available to watch on club websites, with a £10 match pass - although this will be free to season ticket holders, apart from for weekend away games.
With non-league clubs also currently being allowed small crowds during pre-season, up to a maximum of 150 spectators, there are initial signs of returning to normality - but it remains unclear when full capacities could return.
Brighton boss Graham Potter, speaking to the Seagulls’ website after Saturday’s test game, said: “I thought it was a fantastic day - a small step to getting back to normal as soon as we can safely do so.
“It was so nice to see fans here because as we know it brings a completely different dynamic to the stadium and I thought they made a lot of noise and really got involved in the game. Hopefully they enjoyed the performance as well.
“I think people at the club deserve a lot of credit for the work that has gone in and hopefully it was the first successful step to a return to normal at some stage in the future.”
The last game that Norwich fans could attend was almost six months ago, when the Canaries lost 1-0 at Sheffield United on March 7. A few days before that around 9,000 City fans were at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium as City beat Spurs in a penalty shoot-out in the FA Cup fifth round.
The last Carrow Road game with spectators was on Friday, February 28, when a Jamal Lewis goal had earned a 1-0 win over Leicester in the Premier League.
After a three-month suspension the Canaries had to play their final 10 games of the season behind closed doors, including an FA Cup quarter-final against Manchester United, which ended in a 2-1 defeat in extra-time - with every Premier League game televised amid the UK’s recovery from the pandemic.