Finally, crowds will return to Fratton Park, Westleigh Park and The Ageas Bowl this week ...

Sports fans will today start to return to venues across England after coronavirus restrictions were eased.

By Simon Carter
Monday, 17th May 2021, 11:11 am
Fans watch Pompey's home game with Peterborough on December 5, 2020 - one of only two occasions supporters have been inside the ground to watch a game since last March. Picture: PinPep Media / Joe Pepler
Fans watch Pompey's home game with Peterborough on December 5, 2020 - one of only two occasions supporters have been inside the ground to watch a game since last March. Picture: PinPep Media / Joe Pepler

Football, greyhound racing, horse racing, rugby league and rugby union were among the sports set to open their doors to fans today as the third step of the Government’s coronavirus recovery road map is implemented.

Larger seated outdoor venues will be able to admit up to 10,000 spectators. Smaller outdoor venues capacities will be capped at 4,000 or 50 per cent, whichever is the lowest.

Locally, Hampshire are welcoming spectators for all four days of their County Championship match with Leicestershire which starts at The Ageas Bowl on Wednesday.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

Spectators will return to Hampshire's Ageas Bowl on Wednesday for the first time since September 2019. Picture: Neil Marshall

When the turnstiles open, it will have been 609 days since spectators were last allowed inside the ground - for a Championship game against Somerset on September 18, 2019.

Capacity is restricted to just 1,500 on all four days, with only Hampshire members allowed in.

In terms of football, fans can tomorrow night return to Havant & Waterlooville’s Westleigh Park for the first time since early December.

There is a 3,000 crowd limit - half of capacity - for Clanfield Reserves’ home clash with Hayling United Reserves in the Hampshire Combination East Division.

Fans return to Westleigh Park to watch Hawks v Chelmsford last December. They were only allowed back for one more game after that. Picture: Kieron Louloudis.

The ground is being used again on Wednesday evening - for the 2019/20 Hampshire FA Women’s Senior Cup final between Portsmouth and Southampton. Again, the same crowd limit applies.

Hawks were only allowed crowds in to watch two National League South games in the eventually null and voided 2020/21 season - against Chelmsford and Slough Town in early December.

Fratton Park will also welcome fans back for the first time this year on Thursday when Moneyfields and Baffins Milton Rovers contest the 2019/20 Portsmouth Senior Cup final.

The stadium’s capacity has been set at 1,750 – all in one stand - for the showpiece occasion.

Masks will need to be worn when moving around the stadium and can be removed only when seated. Some areas will have one-way systems in operation, with signage and stewards in position to assist.

Like Hawks, Pompey were only allowed fans in for two home games in 2020/21 - 2,000 each for EFL League One matches against Peterborough and Fleetwood in December.

AFC Portchester’s Crest Finance Stadium hosts the 2020/21 Wessex League Cup final next Saturday between US Portsmouth and Hamworthy United.

The crowd limit for that game is fixed at 500 - 200 more than Portchester were allowed in for Wessex League games prior to non-league football shutting down in mid-December.

There is another 500 crowd limit at the same ground the following day for a charity match in aid of GOSH (Great Ormond Street Hospital) featuring ex-Pompey players, TV stars and YouTube influencers.

After Saturday’s successful FA Cup final test event, which saw 21,000 in attendance for Leicester’s Wembley victory over Chelsea, two Sky Bet Championship clubs will see the return of fans tonight.

Barnsley will be backed by around 4,500 for their play-off tie with Swansea, while just over 2,000 will be in attendance when Bournemouth host Brentford in the other semi-final first leg.

But fans have had to get used to a new set of rules with face-masks, online health checks and maintaining social distance now part of the matchday routine.

Barnsley’s club website has also advised fans “to avoid hugs, ‘high-fives’, handshakes, or other close contact with those not in your social group”.

Carlisle, Redcar, Leicester and Windsor will all host race fixtures today and therefore be the first tracks to benefit from the change in policy, although Ffos Las is still restricted to racing behind closed doors due to the differing stance between the English and Welsh governments.

There is also a slight easing in restrictions on course, with owners able to access the parade ring to meet trainers and jockeys, and masks only compulsory in the paddock and indoor areas.

Redcar’s general manager Amy Fair said: ‘We’re really looking forward to welcoming spectators back after so long, we’ve really missed the atmosphere they bring, but the emphasis has to remain very much on public safety.’

Romford Greyhound Stadium will also welcome back fans but no on-course bookmakers will be present.

Crowds will also be back in rugby union’s Gallagher Premiership, with leaders Bristol expecting a crowd of 3,138 for the visit of West Country neighbours Gloucester and Newcastle playing Northampton in front of 1,750.

Rugby league has a busy programme tonight with five Super League matches – Hull can have 5,500, St Helens and Warrington 4,000 each, Castleford’s capacity is 3,600 and Leigh are working to 2,000 – and two Championship games.

Premier League crowds will return tomorrow with the league pushing back its penultimate round of matches back to May 18 and 19.

That decision has allowed every club to play one game in front of supporters before the end of the season on Sunday.