Marcelo Bielsa and Steve Bruce have attacked the “unfair” return of crowds to football after only half of Premier League clubs were allowed to reopen their turnstiles under new coronavirus rules.
Leeds United manager Bielsa and Newcastle United boss Bruce warned the partial lifting of an eight-month fan ban would threaten the integrity of the world’s richest league after their own clubs were among those plunged into the highest tier of restrictions.
It was confirmed on Thursday that 10 Premier League teams would be allowed to welcome back spectators from next Wednesday, but only up to 2,000 rather than the 4,000 some had hoped.
It also emerged that:
More than half of English Football League teams and almost half of Premiership rugby sides would be banned from reopening their turnstiles.
Sponsors would be among those given tickets for both Arsenal and the England rugby team’s first matches since the fan ban was lifted.
Football authorities were planning to step up their campaign to get much larger numbers of supporters back into grounds as quickly as possible.
All but three areas of the country – Cornwall, the Isle of Wight and the Isles of Scilly – were placed in the two highest tiers of restrictions due to come into force at the end of the second national lockdown.
That included all 92 professional football clubs, with 44 plunged into tier three for at least a fortnight in which they must continue to play behind closed doors.
Those who can welcome back fans include Chelsea, who Leeds visit on December 5 in what would be only the second Premier League game with any supporters since March.
Bielsa said: “Perhaps there could be a rule that states that if fans are not allowed in all stadiums then they should not be allowed in at all until everybody is allowed to have them in.
“It should be about trying to maintain the competition as equal as possible with things that are controllable. I am just looking at common sense, which perhaps doesn’t go. The presence of the fans has an effect on the results.
“What the organisation says is people who are from places where there’s a higher risk of infection, it means they will be penalised.”
Bruce, whose side’s first match in front of spectators since March is scheduled to be their EFL Cup quarter-final at Brentford next month, said clubs with fans would have an “unfair advantage”.
Burnley manager Sean Dyche, whose club have also been placed in tier three, laughed off any advantage 2,000 supporters might give Arsenal when his side travel there on December 13. “A stadium that size have got 2,000 in. Are they ball boys?” he joked.
West Bromwich Albion were also put in tier three and manager Slaven Bilic said: “It is a problem but still I’m looking at it positive.”
Roy Hodgson, whose Crystal Palace side were placed in tier two, said: “It will be a bit more of a difference at Selhurst Park than it will at some other stadia where the capacity is so much higher. But I don’t think it’s a question really of what difference the fans are going to make.
“I think it’s more a question of how nice it is going to be for those fans who are selected to be one of those who get a ticket for a game to see a match live again.
“Having said that, I am talking about the Premier League all the time. I think it is going to be vitally important as you go down the leagues. That’s where the real benefit is going to be felt.”
Arsenal confirmed they would become the first Premier League club to welcome back fans for their Europa League clash with Rapid Vienna next Thursday. They also confirmed a limited number of tickets for the game would go to sponsors, as did the Rugby Football Union for England’s final Autumn Nations Cup match a week on Sunday.
RFU chief executive Bill Sweeney said 1,000 tickets would go on sale at prices starting from £75 and 400 would be gifted to local NHS workers, with the remainder going to players’ families, local rugby clubs and sponsors.
With most professional football clubs still subject to a fan ban, the Premier League and EFL are planning to step up their campaign to get much larger numbers of supporters back into grounds as quickly as possible.
The Premier League said in a statement: “The Premier League and our clubs remain committed to the safe return of all fans as soon as possible.”