As MOMS recently discussed on the latest episode of the podcast entitled ‘The Road Ahead for Villa Fans Returning to Stadiums’ (see below) stage five of Project Restart – the return of fans – has many factors to be considered. MOMS was recently in a meeting with Premier League Executive Director Bill Bush, who suggested that fans in stadiums isn’t the problem, it’s how they travel to the stadium that is the big issue.
At every home game at Villa Park, like at any Premier League fixture, before supporters come into B6 crammed on trains and buses, there’s the prospect of people coming in from all over the country and overseas, making the potential transmission of the Covid-19 virus a big risk.
There is a train of thought that the return of fans will be staggered, which has happened in some other countries with attendance limits coming right down to allow for social distancing.
In Russia, 1 in 10 fans have been allowed back, in Poland 1 in 4, while in Holland, it’s 1 in 8.
Considering those examples, Villa Park’s allowed initial attendance could be anywhere between 4,000 to 10,000.
This then opens up the question of which fans will be allowed back first?
Will be it be judged on season ticket loyalty or geographical residence, for example?
Or, should it be an ‘all back together’ ethos?
Whatever the solution is Football Supporters Europe (FSE), the elected European football fan representation group – which My Old Man Said is a member of – have this week issued a statement declaring that supporter groups should very much be included in the conversation in terms of returning football fans back into stadiums.
The FSE also voiced their concerns regarding “attempts by broadcasters to replace or imitate the unique atmosphere produced by fans.”
They point out that “Augmented reality technology, pre-recorded chants, and other forms of artificial support represent a rebuke to match-going fans.”
After football supporters have largely being left on the sidelines, while the football leagues and TV broadcasters cooked up their plans to restart the game, hopefully they’ll see, with the empty product that football without fans is, a proverbial seat at the table to discuss their own return is the very least that needs to happen.
The recent return of football behind closed doors has demonstrated that fans are the lifeblood of the game. Their presence in the stands has been sorely missed, and the spectacle we are accustomed to has been absent without them. It is therefore more important now than ever for supporters to be included in discussions that will determine the immediate and long-term future of the game.
These discussions should revolve around three core pillars.
First, the safe return of spectators. The impact of the virus is not evenly distributed—different countries have understandably adopted different measures at different times. Still, the health of players, staff, fans, and the general public must always come first. This means minimising the risk of the virus spreading in all settings. UEFA, national leagues, and football associations have acted in line with this principle, but it must remain our foremost concern. To this end, the return of spectators to stadia must be accompanied by a meaningful consultation with fans’ representatives at every level of the game on health safety protocols and other operational measures.
Second, a recognition that the contribution made by fans is irreplaceable. As such, we have significant concerns regarding attempts by broadcasters to replace or imitate the unique atmosphere produced by fans. Augmented reality technology, pre-recorded chants, and other forms of artificial support represent a rebuke to match-going fans. Empty stadia are a direct consequence of a public health crisis that has impacted every single one of us and the absence of fans cannot be compensated for by a computer simulation aimed at the amusement of television audiences.
Third, multi-stakeholder dialogue on the future of football. The coronavirus crisis has yet again shown that the current model of football is flawed, unfair, and unsustainable. Football needs to change dramatically. And it needs to change for the better. Any reform process must include fan representatives, on a local, national, and European level. Fans must be engaged and involved in decisions that relate to the wider future of the game, including the necessary overhaul of governance structures and financial regulations.
There can be no “return to normal.” Lasting change is needed to make the game sustainable from top to bottom, and fans stand ready to play a part in shaping that change.
Football Supporters Europe (FSE)
Belgian Supporters – Belgium
Danske Fodbold Fans (DFF) – Denmark
Football Supporters’ Association (FSA) – England
Suomen Maajoukkueen Kannattajat (SMJK) – Finland
Association Nationale des Supporters (ANS) – France
Irrésistibles Français (IF) – France
Bundesbehindertenfanarbeitsgemeinschaft (BBAG) – Germany
Bündnis Aktiver Fußballfans (BAFF) – Germany
Netzwerk Frauen im Fußball (F_IN) – Germany
ProFans – Germany
Queer Football Fanclubs (QFF) – Germany
Unsere Kurve (UK) – Germany
Supporterscollectief Nederland – Netherlands
Amalgamation of Official Northern Ireland Supporters’ Clubs (AONISC) – Northern Ireland
Norsk Supporterallianse (NSA) – Norway
Associação Portuguesa de Defesa do Adepto (APDA) – Portugal
Confederation of Republic of Ireland Supporters Clubs (CRISC) – Republic of Ireland
Irish Supporters Network (ISN) – Republic of Ireland
You Boys in Green (YBIG) – Republic of Ireland
Association of Tartan Army Clubs (ATAC) – Scotland
Supporters Direct Scotland – Scotland
Federación de Accionistas y Socios del Fútbol Español (FASFE) – Spain
Svenska Fotbollssupporterunionen (SFSU) – Sweden
Taraftar Hakları Dayanışma Derneği (Taraf-Der) – Turkey
Taraftar Hakları Derneği (THD) – Turkey
FSA Cymru – Wales