What impact will the return of fans have at the end of the season?
Last week, the Prime Minister announced the roadmap towards the lifting of lockdown restrictions in England.
The main talking points centred on opening dates for the likes of schools, pubs and gyms, but there was also some welcome news in regards to sport.
If criteria around the coronavirus vaccines, testing and new variants are met, we could see up to 10,000 fans in stadiums by the middle of May. As a result, there could be some atmosphere at major sporting events in the UK, such as Wimbledon, Gallagher Premiership final, the Championship play-off final, as well as the rescheduled Euro 2020 tournament, which will see seven matches played at Wembley.
Fans returning is an exciting prospect and will help to do such tournaments justice. Not only this, supporters will be able to attend regular season games for many sports too. However, it throws up a bit of a debate in regards to fairness for these competitions.
Take the Premier League, for example. The final matches are due to be played on 23rd May, meaning that some fans will be able to attend. Apart from a handful of matches in London and Liverpool in the Autumn, there have been no supporters at any match for the entirety of the 2020/21 season.
The title looks to be pretty much wrapped up already, with Manchester City 14 points clear at the top and showing no signs of slowing down. The issue of relegation, though, could go down to the final day.
Their fans might not thank me, but Sheffield United and West Brom look to be destined for a return to the Championship. Fulham, however will fancy their chances of survival, currently finding themselves only three points adrift of Newcastle and Brighton. We could therefore be in for some tense action at Craven Cottage on the final day, with Fulham hosting their relegation rivals from the North East.
Managers, players and fans alike will all be desperate to have supporters back at matches. A win for Fulham on the final day to stay up at Newcastle's expense, roared on by thousands of home fans, might leave many of the Toon Army miffed, though. It has taken the absence of fans over the past year to realise just how much of an impact they can have on teams' performances, and there will be some teams even more keen for them to return than others.
A lot can change between now and then, so this is a very hypothetical scenario, but with it being very tight at the lower end of the table right now, it's a genuine possibility.
Will it be fair for fans to attend matches in cases like this? Comment below and let us know your thoughts!
By Marc Luther Thomas