Brighton and Hove Albion FC have been praised by Premier League chief executive Richard Masters after the club hosted the first football match with fans in attendance since the lockdown.
The test event saw fans return for the pre-season friendly between Albion and Chelsea at the American Express Community Stadium on Saturday. Masters said:
Brighton & Hove Albion did a fantastic job at their test event for the return of supporters and it was great to see fans in a Premier League stadium for the first time since March.
The success of having 2500 supporters in the Amex was very encouraging and we are committed to having full stadia as soon as possible, with safety always our priority. We are working hard alongside our clubs, the government and the safety authorities to achieve this.
Albion chief executive Paul Barber added:
We are delighted – it went as well as it possibly could have. Credit to our fans – they followed the guidelines, listened to requests from our stewards and, even at the end, when they stayed on to listen to the managers’ pitch-side interviews on our stadium screens, they remained in their seats and observed social distancing.
Head coach Graham Potter said:
I thought it was a fantastic day – a small step to getting back to normal as soon as we can safely do so. People at the club deserve a lot of credit for the work that has gone in and hopefully it was the first successful step to a return to normal at some stage in the future.
On Sunday it was announced the government will form a special Sport Tech Innovation Group, which will include the Premier League and other sporting bodies.
The group will explore potential high-tech solutions that could be rolled out to allow more fans to go to stadiums.
Masters welcomed this news adding:
The Premier League is very pleased to be involved in the Sport Tech Innovation Group announced by the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Oliver Dowden.
We know, through the success of delivering Project Restart last season, that Premier League clubs can provide safe environments and we are looking forward to welcoming back supporters to all our grounds as quickly as possible.
Secretary of state Oliver Dowden said this weekend marked “an important milestone” in the recovery of sport. He said:
I am doing everything I can to get fans back in the stands, following the teams and enjoying the sports they love. Sport’s economic health depends on their return to stadiums, too.
I commend the clubs, players, stewards, emergency services and everyone else for their hard work to get us this far. We have blown the starting whistle on fans returning safely, but our work is not done until every fan is back where they belong.
Sports Grounds Safety Authority chief executive Martyn Henderson added:
It’s fantastic to see fans return to watch football. Bringing fans back into grounds while maintaining social distancing will bring new challenges. It’s great to see fans adapt to the new circumstances.
Our purpose is, and always will be, ensuring fans can watch live sport safely. We are delighted that our guidance provides sports grounds with the knowledge and support they need to plan for the safe return of fans with confidence.