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Getting Fans Back Into The Ground Is Only The First Step
Friday, 27th Nov 2020 09:09

Social media has been up in arms this week that Southampton having been placed into tier 2 after lockdown can now have only 2,000 fans allowed back into St Mary's, but the truth is that it was always going to be a tentative start when supporters were to be allowed back and now the real work begins.

Anyone who reads the stories in the political press rather than just the headlines could have predicted that literally the whole country would start in a minimum of tier 2 and the rest tier 3.

Whatever the side of the political fence that you lie on and this is not in any way a condoning of the handling of the whole Covid 19 situation, the truth is that from the very start we were dealing with a pandemic that had come from nowhere and we knew nothing about.

That meant it was always going to be trial and error it whatever measures were taken.

With the latest lockdown the Government was always going to be left with a difficult decision in coming out of it so close to Xmas, if they put most people into Tier 1 as they had been before lockdown and then figures rose again heading into Xmas and the Government then had to place heavy restrictions for the festive period Boris Johnson would have got battered by the press and the people.

So by taking the path he has he has covered his rear end, he has put restrictions in place to placate those who said lockdown should have stretched another couple of weeks and he is trying to ensure that the figures continue to drop so we can all see family at Xmas.

If that happens, then in truth he will have taken the right decision, if it doesn't happen then at least he can't be accused of being too lax in his planning.

I'm sure he will be though whatever happens, the truth is this pandemic doesn't recognise politics it spreads whatever side of the political divide a country, a county or for that matter a council lies, if you want to know why it is spreading just head into a supermarket and see a mix of left wing, right wing, communists, facists and all other political affiliations jostle with each other at close quarters for a loaf of bread or a four pack of beer with no care for social distancing.

With a cure seemingly just around the corner whatever side of the political divide you lie on, it does not make sense to gamble with another increase in deaths now, err on the side of caution, we are almost there.

For football fans though the main blow has been that the 4,000 we all assumed would be allowed back into grounds is now 2,000 and for a swathe of the country still zero.

But football is different from real life, since lockdown began the issue for football clubs has never been about social distancing in the stadiums, it is about mass transit, the real danger is about fans travelling between areas in different tiers and spreading the disease.

If things were done with any sort of logic then clubs would be judged on their stadiums alone, taking into account not just the capacity, but the stadium concourses and access areas to the ground.

If this had been done then Everton fans for instance would be up in arms that Goodison Park would be allowed less people in than St Mary's despite the fact that it's capacity is around 8,000 more.

The answer to that would be access, Goodison is hemmed in on three sides by terraced housing and is residential, whereas at St Mary's Saints can create a sterile area for fans to mix and enter outside the ground, social distancing in grounds is not just about sitting 2 metres apart it is about being able to social distance in the concourses for the toilets and refreshment facilities etc, not to mention queuing.

But the real issue for the Government in fans returning isn't inside the stadium itself, it is about mass transit, ie those who will travel from areas not in the direct proximity to the ground itself, this is not as simple as it sounds and is not just about what tiers you are in.

But there are no away fans you may say, but it isn't just about those supporting the visiting side, although that is a concern.

Taking that point first, for example if we had come out of lockdown at the start of this week and most of the country was in Level 1 and could go into pubs etc, the visit of Manchester United would see a number of Manchester United fans travel to Southampton, perhaps not in massive numbers, but it only needs one to have the virus and then in a pub with fellow Manchester United fans with little social distancing it could spread like wildfire not just to Manchester but all part of the country

Likewise if United were able to have 4,000 fans into Old Trafford, a fair number would be from afar and thus go from areas with low numbers of infection into a higher rate area and then return home with the danger that the disease might go with them and spread.

The only simple answer to this and for all football clubs is to allow only home fans in who live in the immediate area to Southampton, localise the crowd and keep it within a small area, but that has it's problems do you draw the line at the Southampton City Council area and no let fans from Totton, Eastleigh or West End etc in, do you include them as there is no visible gap between the last houses in say Harefield and West End, but then stop those living in Winchester, Romsey & Hythe all just as close.

The issue with this pandemic is stopping it spreading as much as you can.

For Saints from a home fan perspective this won't be so great, but with a cure so close would they prefer that the Government threw caution to the wind.

I can understand a lot of the frustrations, I have most of them myself, but I also understand the logistics behind the decisions, yes a blanket approach to the number of fans is not good, but the blunt truth is implementing a more targeted approach based on assessing the stadiums capacity access, fanbase demographic etc is time consuming and the will take resources away from elsewhere especially on matchdays when emergency services will have to be deployed at and around stadiums to deal with supporters rather than elsewhere.

The upshot is only 2,000 fans are allowed back in, that is unlikely to change in the next 2 weeks, the job is to change it going forward

So the issue for football fans and those that represent them including the Football Supporters Association is to firstly get fans back into the ground, secondly to show it can be done safely and without further spreading Covid 19.

This was never going to be an easy task after the issues of people flooding to beaches etc in the summer and then the second wave, but this week has at least seen a start and now the real work and lobbying can begin, we have got one foot in the door, we now need to keep it open and keep getting more people into the ground until we are back to normal.

The Football Supporters Association is playing a big part in that as it has been in talks with all concerned parties since day 1 of lockdown, with the FA, the Government, MP's clubs and all parties and it has played a big part in changing the thinking, without their constant campaigning and lobbying it s almost certain that the Government would have taken the easy option and kept fans locked out of the stadiums until after Xmas.

That would have put the campaign back another six weeks, the FSA has won a small but significant victory in actually getting enough pressure on the Government that they see it as crucial for fans to return to stadia and have allowed it to happen, the numbers are not significant, but the actual fact that fans will return is and now the momentum has to keep going.

The truth is though the FSA needs supporters to join the organisation and help it campaign on this issue and indeed other's in football, membership is free so there is no excuse from a cost basis.

It is no use spouting off on social media about a lack of fans in grounds if you just sit at home and do that, you are just one of multi millions ranting about hundreds of thousands of different subjects with no real clout.

By joining the Football Supporters Association, you join a collective voice, one that can go a lot further in it's aims the more people that it represents, no one listens to one person on their twitter account, it changes nothing in the world, but when a large group turn round and say we represent hundreds of thousands as the FSA is starting to do now as it grows, Governments listen as they have with this small concession now.

So we cannot change what has just been announced, but we can change the next announcement in two weeks time and every two weeks after that, this is a moment where you either become part of the solution or just another twitter account.

Find out more and join the Football Supporters Association using the link below.

The Football Supporters Associaton

Photo: Action Images

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DellBoyWally added 10:17 - Nov 27
As a life-long supporter and since my first match in 1960 living in Bitterne, then the New Forest then South Wales and currently a season ticket holder living in West Yorkshire I can't get to a match even if I were drawn in the ticket lotto:- I'm a Tier 3. So the Manchester clubs, Leeds Utd etc. can't have any fans! Should hear the moans!!!
I shall just have be satisfied sitting in warm, feet up, tv on for now rather than sat in the cold with no-one to talk to after a 4 hour drive facing a further 4 hour drive home!

DellBoyWally added 10:17 - Nov 27
As a life-long supporter and since my first match in 1960 living in Bitterne, then the New Forest then South Wales and currently a season ticket holder living in West Yorkshire I can't get to a match even if I were drawn in the ticket lotto:- I'm a Tier 3. So the Manchester clubs, Leeds Utd etc. can't have any fans! Should hear the moans!!!
I shall just have be satisfied sitting in warm, feet up, tv on for now rather than sat in the cold with no-one to talk to after a 4 hour drive facing a further 4 hour drive home!

saintmark1976 added 11:06 - Nov 27
“Anyone who reads the stories in the political press rather than just the headlines could have predicted that the whole country would start in a minimum of tier 2 and the rest in tier 3”. So basically Nick that did not include you, as on Tuesday this week you posted an article confidentiality predicting that we along with Brighton supporters could look forward to 4000 fans being allowed access to our stadiums within a few days.

As for joining the Football Supporters Association. How on earth do you think that the government will take a blind bit of notice? Your talking about an organisation which is now introducing rules against mixing with people indoors to supposedly reduce disease spread, only for five days at Christmas to actually encouraging it’s citizens to do the exact opposite.Some what, if not impossible, to reason with or apply the rules of logic with people of that mind set I would suggest.

underweststand added 12:28 - Nov 27
A lot of what Nick wrote bears out the facts, but the actual numbers are the main point of critical discussion, and clearly whatever number THEY choose ...will be criticised.
Few of us could ever imagine a stadium that wasn't in the City (and SMS is the perfect historical area) for the club to be in. At one time I lived 20 minutes from The Dell and it was a pleasant walk to the ground, whilst chatting to others who one met along the way. But much has changed, and more recently I recall a conversation with someone on the staff at SMS who said the majority of fans don't live within the city boundaries anymore and quite few are from other parts of the county.

The volume of travelling fans going back in forth under normal circumstances would create its own pandemic, and be far worse in major cities areas like London, Birmingham Liverpool and Manchester. So sadly there will be no quick fix on this , but the UK maybe better off than some other countries where more strict curfews are in place and the populations are also protesting in volume.

Consigliere added 14:02 - Nov 27
I know that we are all thoroughly fed up with this and long to get back into the ground, but Mr Johnson (of whom I am no fan) is quite right to say that we need to be jolly careful. I have friends and family who are medics and they all say the same thing about Covid- don't catch it. My son tells me that his youngest patient to die of the disease (with no underlying disorders or co-morbidities) was just 23 years old. Very scary.

saintmark1976 added 17:22 - Nov 27
Consigliere, Mr Johnson telling us to be careful on the one hand but then on the other hand doing everything possible to encourage people to mix for five days at Christmas makes no logical sense whatsoever to me. You are quite correct, scary times indeed with that example of mixed messaging.

Please thank your son, friends and family for their efforts on our behalf during these trying times.

ItchenNorth added 18:36 - Nov 27
As the saying goes 'you will never keep all of the people happy all of the time, only some of the people some of the time' !
As a season ticket holder, I'm really not bothered about returning to a stadium with 2000 or 4000 fans in, and with no away fans either. If I get offered a chance to attend a Saints game at St Marys, I will decline and take the refund. I'm only interested in returning to football when we are basically back to a normal match day experience.

ElijahK added 23:42 - Nov 27
I mean I get why they’re allowing less fans in whilst your in tier 1 compared to tier 2, but what’s just mind baffling is that a place like old Trafford will be hosting as many fans as turf moor (the biggest to smallest stadiums)! I mean it should just be percentages seeing that our stadium is 30,000 I’d of thought that whilst in tier 1 at least 8,000 would be allowed as there’s no away fans so there’s no areas that can’t have fans! But the fact that every spectator is going to have basically 15 seats unattended because of them is ridiculous, especially when you think that it’s 10 at Burnley, yet like 34 at Manchester United! In the end it won’t even be as good as they’ll be no atmospheric, or away fans or socialising which in the end is what is just as important for us fans as the game itself is! I mean I just can’t wait for football to get back to normal again!

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