The Football Supporters’ Association is confident fans will act responsibly and co-operate with guidelines when they return to stadiums.
The Government has decided to allow spectators back into sports venues on a limited basis from next week after coronavirus restrictions change from national lockdown to a tier system.
Initially, football grounds in tier one will be able to have a maximum of 4,000 fans, or 50 per cent of capacity, whichever is lower, and in tier two the same applies with the cap being 2,000. Matches in tier three will continue to take place behind closed doors.
FSA vice-chair Tom Greatrex has pointed to instances in recent months of socially-distanced crowds at games, including a pre-season friendly at Brighton, and anticipates fans conducting themselves similarly responsibly at the forthcoming matches.
He says he is confident any code of conduct will be “proportionate and appropriate” and that “people will comply with it”.
Greatrex told the PA news agency: “There’s a lot of detail yet to be confirmed, but with that caveat, we welcome the move to start to enable fans to get back into grounds again.
“When we had the pilot events in August and September, every one of those went very well and the supporters were, as you’d expect them to be, responsible and followed the Covid-safe conditions in terms of when they had to wear masks, being temperature checked, sitting apart other than when they were in a bubble.
“And just as supporters in Northern Ireland have been able to do that at games, both league and international, I have no concerns that supporters in England won’t be able to do exactly the same.
“Everybody realises the extent to which this is different because of the pandemic, and there is a journey from getting from there back to normality hopefully as vaccines roll out, but in the meantime, I’m confident supporters will act responsibly because whenever they have been tested on this, that is exactly what they have done.”
Greatrex also stressed the importance of clear communication with regard to the guidelines that are finalised.
“I think over the next week or so the details of what the arrangements are need to be very clearly communicated to people,” he said.
“If people aren’t aware, that’s when there is a risk that things don’t get followed. It is important people understand and are communicated with about what the arrangements are and why they are the arrangements. I think that’s the way you ensure people comply with it.”
The Football Safety Officers Association has spoken of a ‘four E’ approach – engage, explain, educate, eject – to supporter non-compliance, but is not expecting stewards to encounter major problems.
FSOA director of operations Peter Houghton said: “We don’t generally expect any negativity around it, at all really.
“The safety officers will have prepared their stewarding teams for this. There will be an operation in place for people who don’t comply.
“There is a four E structure that we are working to where we engage with the supporter and explain and educate, and it’s only really if it goes wrong from there that we escalate and finally eject.
“To be honest, I’m just not really expecting anything to leap off the pages to say there has been ejections, arrests or anything of that nature – I’d be absolutely astonished.
“There’s very few tickets that are going to be available, and we think spectators will know if they are non-compliant then it wrecks the chances of getting a ticket for another game in this emerging process.”