Premier League clubs will hesitantly re-open grounds to supporters next week after the Government confirmed which clubs can welcome back fans.
Arsenal’s Europa League clash against Rapid Vienna on Thursday will be the first match including an English top-flight team that will see the return of fans, and Manchester United’s visit to West Ham a week on Saturday will be the first Premier League match to be played with fans since March.
But the re-opening of stadiums comes amid a backdrop of unrest from top-flight clubs about the financial implications of holding games with limited capacities, with losses starting at £500,000 per match.
Arsenal will be the first top flight team to bring back fans, with 2,000 permitted next week when they go up against Rapid Vienna in the Europa League
A number of teams also feel that the imbalance, that certain grounds can have spectators and others can’t, poses integrity issues.
The Emirates and the London Stadium are among 10 top-flight grounds to have been cleared to let 2,000 fans in from Wednesday.
The other clubs, who are in Tier 2 under the Government’s latest guidelines, and so permitted to re-open their doors, are: Tottenham, Chelsea, Crystal Palace, Fulham, Liverpool, Everton, Brighton and Southampton.
West Ham will host Man United on December 5 in the first Premier League fixture with fans
The remaining 10 clubs will continue to play games behind closed doors because they are in Tier 3 areas.
There is a realisation from all clubs that holding matches with such limited spectator numbers will cause substantial financial losses due to the attached costs, including policing and stewarding.
But having lobbied for the return of fans for so long, clubs know they would face a PR backlash if they decided against re-opening due to the cash losses they would incur.
With no prospect of making any profit from the games, some top-flight clubs have discussed giving a percentage of tickets to key workers as a gesture of goodwill.
For lower-league clubs, the return of fans — even in such limited numbers — represents a welcome financial boost.
Some clubs, who have been informed they will have to continue to host games in empty stadiums, were privately breathing a sigh of relief yesterday as they avoided the prospect of losing more money.
Arsenal confirmed that they will re-open their doors in the face of an inevitable financial hit, opening their lower-tier and club-level seats for home games.
Chelsea are expected to release plans for their home game against Leeds in the next 24 hours.
West Ham intend to open their doors for the clash against United next Saturday — but stopped short of confirming as they awaited official clearance.
Crystal Palace’s trip to AstonVilla on Boxing Day is set to be broadcast live by the BBC
A number of clubs will use ballots to decide who will get tickets — but must still vet which fans are eligible for tickets amid strict Government advice that prevents people living in Tier 3 areas from travelling to Tier 2.
Meanwhile, live Premier League football will be broadcast on the BBC on Boxing Day for the first time, with Aston Villa’s clash with Crystal Palace to be shown.
Manchester United travel to Leicester in the first of six games on December 26, with Manchester City hosting Newcastle at 8pm.
Amazon Prime have the rights to all 10 fixtures between Monday 28 and Wednesday 30 December, including Liverpool’s trip to Newcastle, Everton v Manchester City and Manchester United’s game with Wolves at Old Trafford.