Premier League managers welcome return of fans in limited numbers

FILE PHOTO: Soccer Football - Premier League - Crystal Palace v Leeds United - Selhurst Park, London, Britain - November 7, 2020 General view inside the stadium before the match Pool via REUTERS/Matthew Childs

(Reuters) - Premier League managers have welcomed the British government's decision to allow fans to return to stadiums for the first time amid the COVID-19 pandemic, even if clubs are limited to 2,000 at stadiums where they can open their doors.

With a month-long national lockdown to contain the spread of the virus set to be lifted on Dec. 2, the government has said up to 4,000 fans can attend outdoor elite sports events in the lowest-risk medium alert areas of England.

While none of the Premier League clubs are in that Tier 1 zone, Liverpool City Region and all 32 boroughs of London plus the city of London fall under the high alert Tier 2 and clubs in those areas can welcome up to 2,000 fans.

Clubs classified as being in the very high alert Tier 3 zone, including the Manchester teams, will have to wait longer before welcoming fans back to their grounds.

Newcastle United manager Steve Bruce, whose club cannot yet host any fans, said the move was a "step in the right direction" for smaller teams but questioned the maximum limit as the size of stadiums was not being taken into account.

"I can understand 4,000 fans if it's an 8,000-seater stadium but what I can't quite digest at the moment is why only 4,000 or 2,000 when we've got the capacity to... comfortably put 15,000 to 20,000 people in," Bruce told reporters.

"It's a small gesture but for the smaller clubs, 4,000 or 2,000 is welcome relief because they live off that sort of thing."

Burnley must also wait to host supporters at Turf Moor but could play in front of spectators at Arsenal next month. Manager Sean Dyche said "any fans getting into stadiums" was a start.

"The rules are the rules and we still want people safe and well and that is the main thing," he said.

"Home or away fans in the stadium is great, they've been waiting a long time and we've been waiting a long time."

Crystal Palace boss Roy Hodgson, whose London club can host supporters, said 2,000 would not make a lot of difference.

"I don't think 2,000 fans in a stadium will make a sizeable difference in terms of fair competition in the Premier League," he said.

"It is more a matter of it being such a great thing for the fans to enjoy."

(Reporting by Rohith Nair and Manasi Pathak in Bengaluru; Editing by Ken Ferris)

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