Premier League clubs are to vote on whether to allow fans back for the final day of the season with concerns that home teams could have an significant advantage in the battle for European places and the relegation fight.
Boris Johnson announced the government’s post-lockdown plans on Monday and up to 10,000 spectators could be let into grounds on 23 May, when Fulham are due to play Newcastle at Craven Cottage in what is potentially a relegation decider, and Brighton – currently fifth from bottom – travel to Arsenal. Spurs visit eighth-placed Aston Villa for a match that could be key to Europa League qualification.
Premier League sources said they were consulting with clubs, and confirmed that a vote to allow fans would need the approval of 14 of the 20 clubs at a shareholders meeting.
One potential solution is for pilot matches to be staged from mid-April as part of the government’s test events programme. Such a move could allow between 2,000 and 4,000 fans back inside grounds, although Premier League and government sources stressed much would depend on how smoothly the earlier phases of the lockdown easing measures went.
There is also expected to be an application from the EFL for the Carabao Cup final on 25 April at Wembley to have fans as a pilot event. However, one senior source expressed scepticism, given the number of Manchester City fans that could travel to see them play Spurs.
Meanwhile, the chief executive of Lancashire County Cricket Club, Daniel Gidney, has urged the government to allow the return of spectators for the County Championship. “Cricket is a perfect audience because a lot of them will have been vaccinated,” he said, adding that it was important pilots or trails were not restricted to football.
“I want to be able to get members back watching county championship in April – not in huge numbers but we need to get those pilots away,” he said. “Let’s give the government the data so we don’t rush in blind on 17 May. If you have 500 people going into a store – or 500 in a massive beer garden – how is that different to 500 watching in a cricket ground?”
From 17 May venues will be allowed to have up to 10,000 or 25% of capacity, whichever is smaller, and restrictions will be eased further after 21 June.
While the prospect of a 90,000 capacity crowd inside Wembley for the Euro 2020 final on 12 July remains unlikely – especially given most fans will be using public transport – the hope is that a series of pilots will be able to show attending sport events is safe, especially once all adults have had their Covid vaccinations.