What’s it like to be at a game with fans? Experiencing socially distanced football

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What’s it like to attend a test event designed to see if having fans back in football grounds is viable? 

The EFL announced on Tuesday that it will continue to put on test events to see whether having fans inside football grounds is viable in England.

Similar events were held in Scotland last weekend – one at Ross County for the visit of Celtic, and another at Pittodrie as Aberdeen beat Kilmarnock 1-0.

Benjy Palmer was at the latter game, where 300 fans were allowed into the ground but not to sing, shout, stand or do most other things you would at a normal game, and he joined The Totally Scottish Football Show this week to describe what it was like.

“I thought it would be a soulless kind of event: it’s not going to be the same, you’re not allowed to stand, sing, chant or whatever. But it was kind of heart-warming, seeing families congregating [at the ground] again on a Saturday afternoon to go and watch their team.

“It was quite a straightforward Aberdeen win – Derek McInnes said afterwards that those 300 fans can come again – but if Aberdeen were getting beat then it could have been a very different tone.

“There was almost like a snooker clap every now and then. Not to go off on a tangent, but if you saw the snooker at The Crucible, people weren’t wearing masks and the crowds were quite close together: compare that to Saturday when fans were socially distanced, they had to sit in their family groups, and everyone was wearing masks, outside for two or three hours.

“In terms of safety, I think Aberdeen got it spot on. Fans had to arrive at certain intervals before the game, they were warned that they had to leave when they were told to leave afterwards, but it wasn’t a long wait or anything – they were all gone within five minutes of full-time.

“They consciously made an effort to squeeze as many people into as small an area as possible, while abiding by social distancing guidelines – just to see how it would work getting people in and out of that area.”

While the event seemed to go fairly well from a safety point of view, did it have any impact on how the teams played? Did having fans in the ground give Aberdeen an advantage?

“A few of the Aberdeen players made a point of going across to clap the fans, but I wouldn’t say there was a sporting advantage to be had from just 300 fans just clapping along.

“We spoke to Kilmarnock’s Greg Kiltie afterwards who said they noticed the fans, but whether it gave them a boost in performance is a bit of a stretch.

Laura Brannan added:

“[Aberdeen chairman] Dave Cormack’s tweet the other night was really interesting: he said we could’ve ensured the safety of 3,000 fans, making the point that the chartered flight they’ve got to Stavanger for the Europa League cost them double because they had to ensure social distancing. But the BA flights to London, they’re full, there’s no social distancing.

“Surely 300 is a drop in the ocean at a ground like Pittodrie. They could easily have got in thousands of fans and socially distanced them all.”

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