Following months of pressure and far too long since crowds were last allowed inside stadiums, this week fans will be able to see action from England's top football leagues in person. The announcement symbolised a welcome step towards a sense of normality we all crave.
For many, watching football is undoubtedly one of life’s greatest joys and has become even more of a touchstone as the world has turned upside down. Almost all of my best memories in life are associated with the sport, so I struggled to contain my excitement upon hearing the news.
Yet as the dust settled, the difficult questions arose. Most notably, how will it be decided who the lucky 2,000 (as it would be for most of the country where fans are allowed) will be, and could I have a clean conscience being one of the privileged few inside of the stadium? In a year where people have lost their jobs, loved ones and everything in between, the escapism that football can bring will be priceless for some.
I knew many others are more deserving of the joy the sport could bring - and no one more so than the key workers that have kept the country moving. In short, out lockdown heroes. And heroes is an accurate description. They have nursed our sick relatives. They have stacked supermarket shelves around the clock. They have delivered food to those unable to leave their homes.
With all that in mind, would it not be the ultimate mark of gratitude to those who have worked tirelessly to get us through this year if they were the chance to be the first to experience the joy of the game again? Surely, clubs won’t miss an opportunity staring them in the face.
Indeed, footballers and clubs alike have stepped up to during the course of the pandemic to support those in their local communities. Players have created a contribution fund to distribute money to those on the frontline and clubs have turned their stadiums into coronavirus testing centres and Marcus Rashford has worked to ensure children don’t go hungry with his free school meal campaign. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. You would think this would be a step worth contemplating.
Unfortunately, it seems that many clubs have indeed let the opportunity pass them by and left lockdown heroes on the sideline. While we await plans in full, A number of top-level clubs are issuing tickets via a ballot for season ticket holders and other "executive" level members. With 2,000 fans representing a mere few per cent of capacity for bigger clubs, the financial gain is expected to be slim in the grand scheme of revenues. A small drop in a very large ocean. Yes, fans have patiently wanted – but could they not last a little longer?
Some clubs are leading by example. Back in March, Brighton and Hove Albion spearheaded a campaign to make 100,000 tickets available to NHS workers across professional football. The Seagulls invited other Premier League, EFL, Scottish and Northern Irish clubs to follow their lead, poignantly stating “if each of the 92 clubs committed on average one thousand tickets, with The FA donating for a future England international, we could easily top 100,000 tickets for these heroes.”
Others followed suit, with Championship teams Bournemouth and Cardiff also committing 1,000 tickets, as well as a host of other football league clubs. Take League Two side Cambridge United, they promised free match day tickets for NHS workers when football returns. Other sports are stepping up too, with the Rugby Football Union (RFU) donating 400 tickets to NHS workers to watch England play their final match of the Autumn Nations Cup.
Such gestures only go a small way to show our immense gratitude, but they are a start. I sincerely hope that we start to see more teams, particularly at the top of the game, following their lead.
In a time characterised by divisions and difficulties, we have been unanimous in our appreciation for key workers who have put themselves at risk to help others. I’m willing to wait a bit longer and give up my seats to them if I have to.
Yes I would love nothing more than to watch my team pitchside again, but after all they have done for us, the least we can do is swap the stadium for the sofa one last time.