Having been fortunate enough to obtain a ticket for Aston Villa’s final Premier League game of the 2020/2021 season, I look to share my first-hand experience of what the return to live sport entails and how impactful the COVID-19 Pandemic has been on the process.
1 Year, 2 Months and 22 Days. That is the length of time separating my last two visits to live professional sport. Unfortunately, for most sports fans in the UK, the COVID-19 Pandemic has meant a significant disruption to normality. Little was I to know, as I moped out of the exit doors of Wembley following Aston Villa’s 2-1 loss to Manchester City in the Carabao Cup Final, that it would be over a year until I was once again allowed through the turnstiles.
I was one of the lucky 10,000 fans admitted to the stands to watch the clash against Chelsea last Sunday
I am still not entirely sure what was more nerve-wracking, the final ten minutes of the game, or the wait to find out whether I had been successful in securing a ticket. Villa’s balloting process had been available to all 2019/2020 Season Ticket holders and would mean that over two-thirds of regularly attending fans would miss out on the return to Villa Park on May 23rd. Fortunately for me, the ballot fell in my favour, and I was one of the lucky 10,000 fans admitted to the stands to watch the clash against Chelsea last Sunday.
Prior to attending, all fans were required to submit a COVID-19 Health Declaration Form, as well as being advised to test themselves before travelling to the ground. A minor inconvenience for something so significant to many.
The day started like most of my recent visits to Villa Park. The recent easing of Lockdown Restrictions meant that for many, including myself, the customary trip to the pub was permitted. On the train to Aston station, an ensemble of North-side Brummies belted out Villa chants. It was clear from then that this day meant much more than the average Premier League fixture.
Masks were required both inside the foyer and in the stands, although, as I am sure many of you have witnessed on TV, the latter was far less policed
As expected, the pandemic had meant stringent measures were in place to ensure the safety and wellbeing of those in attendance. Designated ticket entrances and marked out walkways meant that fans were segregated from one another almost immediately upon arrival. Masks were required both inside the foyer and in the stands, although, as I am sure many of you have witnessed on TV, the latter was far less policed.
The game itself meant very little for Villa, an 11th place finish had been secured regardless of the result. Yet it felt like a very similar atmosphere to the Cup Final I had visited a long 14 months ago. In a post-match interview, left-back Matt Targett remarked, it ‘felt like 40,000 [fans], with the noise they produced’. I can attest, having only just recovered my voice writing this on the following Thursday, it felt very much as if I was singing for three others.
Goals from Bertrand Traore and Anwar El Ghazi meant that it was a perfect return to Villa Park. The fans showed their appreciation to the players and fans before leaving the ground with beaming smiles that likely remain.
Whilst initially unusual, the overall experience had not been dramatically impacted by the COVID-19 restrictions. Speaking to a West Bromwich Albion fan who attended their match-up against West Ham earlier a few days prior, the most unusual part of their experience was the unfamiliar silence that emerged from the opposition scoring. The true atmosphere of a fierce footballing clash is unlikely to be felt until the return of away supporters too.
It is still ambiguous as to what sort of situation the UK will be in when Premier League football resumes. Whether we will see full capacity stadiums come next season’s commencement is far from clear. However, after my experience last weekend, if anyone is apprehensive about going to watch sport out of fears that the experience will be underwhelming, I would strongly advise you to reconsider.
Featured image used courtesy of Matt Cotter. No changes were made to this image.
In article image 1 and 2 courtesy of Matt Cotter. No changes were made to this images.
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