Why can't I watch Brighton when 5,000 get green light for 02 music concert?

Football and the entertainment industry has been ravaged by Covid-19 and it deserves to re-start in a secure way.

Monday, 12th October 2020, 5:47 pm
Brighton hosted a successful event against Chelsea in pre-season

In the latest column from Brighton & Hove Albion podcast Football, the Albion and Me, host Richard Newman suggests preventing fans from returning to stadia only makes sense if it’s applied across the entertainment sector.

It’s fair to say that start of the Premier League season, the period before this international break, has been nothing short of bonkers.

Shedloads of goals, freak results, entertainment everywhere – yet despite all of that, a lot of football fans still feel slightly empty that these spectacles were not witnessed by crowds inside stadia.

Football without fans has left many with an empty feeling

Would Manchester United have won last month’s game at Brighton, when Albion hit the woodwork five times and had an awarded penalty overturned? It could have been very different.

Setting out my stall from the very start, I’m not saying we need to rush to get fans back in to sporting fixtures without the necessary procedures in place.

Yet, I have been extremely fortunate to be inside stadia since the restart while covering Premier League matches for radio, and I can’t think of a safer place to be.

The Covid-safe measures are well thought out and strictly applied. Brighton’s recent test event, a pre-season friendly with Chelsea, was widely praised as an overwhelming success.

October was originally earmarked as the month when fans would return to sporting fixtures in the UK, albeit in limited numbers.

Yet the rising rate of coronavirus restrictions put a stop to that and provisional plans were put on the backburner, an understandable temporary measure, while all parties took stock.

But last week it was announced that almost 5,000 tickets will be made available for a concert at London’s 02 Arena, an indoor venue, in a city with rising rates of infection.

Theatres are starting to put productions back on again, cinemas (although some are choosing to close) have been inviting audiences back in and music venues are tentatively opening the doors again, with reduced capacities of course.

If this is all safe, I’m all for it. The entertainment industry has been ravaged by Covid-19 and it deserves to re-start in a secure way.

However, surely this is at odds with the ban of supporters at sporting fixtures. It is well known that transmission of the virus is less likely outdoors and test events have already proved that they can take place with, say, 20-30% of venue capacity, in a safe way.

It cannot be one rule for some, and another rule for sport.

Last week, a petition to get crowds back quickly passed 100,000, the amount required to consider a debate in parliament.

No surprise, given the desperation of fans – the real stakeholders – wanting to see elite sports men and women back in action in the flesh. But clubs are backing it too – and Brighton have been helping to lead the way.

Albion chief executive Paul Barber has described the aforementioned inconsistencies as ‘illogical’ and has called for the chance for football to get ‘back on our own two feet and look after our staff and supporters and our community’ in the safest way possible.

This is not just about the wellbeing of fans who live for their sport, it’s about protecting the future of sport. Clubs outside of the richest leagues will struggle without people coming through their gates, staff will lose their jobs and vital cogs in a community could disappear forever.

Many countries are already allowing fans in across Europe, including in Germany, where former Seagulls defender Uwe Hünemeier plays at Paderborn.

In Germany, only fans living in certain areas can attend and even then, the stadium is only possible if infection rates are below a certain level – a sensible approach which appears to be a success, so far.

Speaking to the Football, the Albion and Me, podcast for a forthcoming episode in series 2 (launching 28 October) and available as a short teaser, Hünemeier could not wait for supporters to return.

He said: “You need the crowd to play football - I was saying when we went to our first away game without fans at Dusseldorf that without fans, when players hit the post or hit the bar, normally you get intimidated by the home crowds and you’re under pressure as the away team.

"Now they hit the post and you go ‘oh’ and it continues the same way as before. You need to get under pressure in away games, sometimes you like it, you defend as a team.

“(In Germany), we always do it with a certain amount of discipline and rules, we don’t over do it too early.

"Politicians are doing a great job setting up a set environment for players and supporters. There are different types of event management and you always need to be careful about how you cope with Covid-19.”

The sentiment that the game isn’t quite the same was echoed by Albion and Liverpool legend Mark Lawrenson in the final episode of series 1, who said: “Crowds are everything, just ask the players.

"What I noticed straight away, players aren’t diving, they’re not getting other players in trouble. If we can get crowds back and keep those two points, that would be massive.

"It’s just not the same sport, but the world’s not the same anymore.”

Pressure from sporting organisations will continue to ramp up on the government, which may or may not be complicated by the new local lockdown system which is about to be implemented.

If the right measures are in place, and sport can return in a way no less safe than attending your local pub, this column is all for it.

Football, the Albion and Me, is a podcast which interviews Brighton & Hove Albion favourites from across the decades.

All designed to be largely non-time specific, guests, which have included Ashley Barnes, Nathan Jones, Brian Horton, Peter Ward and Terry Connor, discuss key moments from their football career and name a 5-a-side team made up of the best players they’ve played with.

Listen and subscribe via all podcast providers by searching ‘Football, the Albion and Me’, or follow the link.

Follow Football, the Albion and Me, on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.