Life is set to finally return to normal and for Swansea City fans that means proper matchdays could soon be back.
It has been a very long time since the Jack Army was able to enjoy a normal Saturday with all the trimmings.
The walk to the stadium, the queue for the turnstiles, the overpriced food and drink, the amazing communal elation of seeing your team score and the collective groans when they concede. The good, the bad and the ugly, it could all be set to return.
This week saw First Minister Mark Drakeford set out the Welsh Government’s plan for the coming weeks and this included an announcement that should the public health situation allow it, we will move to Alert Level 0 on August 7.
This brand new category will basically end most regulations concerning Covid-19, including limits on the number of people who can attend both indoor and outdoor events.
READ MORE: Fans to be welcomed back at Liberty
In theory this means we can finally return to proper crowds across all sporting events.
What it will mean in practice is still slightly unclear as clubs will still have to conduct risk assessments which take Covid-19 into consideration. The guidance stipulates businesses will have to take: “reasonable measures to manage the risk of coronavirus at their premises”.
These include measures such as physical distancing although it will be up to each business to decide on what constitutes “reasonable measures”.
It remains to be seen whether Swansea will be able to have a full house for any of their opening home fixtures. It’s also unclear whether or not England’s return to a similar level of normality from Monday will see away fans permitted at the opening-day clash at Blackburn.
But at the very least it means stadiums such as the Liberty will be able to welcome proper crowds again and after such a long wait, that’s cause for excitement.
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Swansea fans are of course luckier than most in that a few thousand of us were lucky enough to see our side in last season’s play-offs, which were used as test events. It was great to see and hear supporters at matches again but it wasn’t quite the same in either of those games.
Only 15 per cent of the Liberty Stadium’s seats were allowed to be filled for the semi-final against Barnsley and an even smaller percentage was permitted for the final at Wembley, although that enabled around 5,000 Jacks to make the trip to London.
It was amazing to see that first step on the road to normalcy but it didn’t replicate the atmospheres we all know and love.
During Euro 2020 we saw capacity crowds at stadiums in Copenhagen and Budapest. While we can all argue about the wisdom of cramming that many people from various different countries into tightly-packed grounds during a pandemic, nobody can argue that it was a sight we’ve all missed. The vibrancy of a full stadium is something special and I was jealous of those fans who were able to take part.
There seemed to be a full house at the tournament’s final in Wembley too but I can’t say I was as keen to be part of that particular crowd.
Hopefully the First Minister’s latest announcement means it won’t be too long until we see big crowds back at the Liberty too.
We will get a taste of what’s to come in the pre-season friendly against Premier League Southampton on July 31. The club announced this week that more than 8,000 tickets will be available for that match and it’s fair to say this will be the most hotly anticipated friendly in years.
For most of those 8,000 fans, the visit of Southampton will be their first time back inside the Liberty in 17 months but just like friendlies are little more than a warm-up for players ahead of the league kick-off, this fixture will be little more than a warm-up for fans ahead of the bigger events to come.
The one we’ve all got our eyes on is the first home game of the Championship season, an 8pm kick-off against newly-relegated Sheffield United on August 14. It has the making of a great day out.
For nearly a year and a half, one of the things that’s kept me going is the thought of that first proper game back. What an occasion it could be, under the lights on a Saturday night, to get a real crowd with a genuine atmosphere back at our spiritual home.
Obviously we don’t know how many fans will be allowed and what kind of safety measures will still be in place but surely we can expect a sizeable crowd in full voice on that night.
After this week’s long-awaited announcement, Swansea fans and indeed fans of all Welsh clubs can start looking forward to resuming their old routines.
Whenever that wonderful day arrives, it will be more than just a chance to go to a football match again. It will be an occasion to savour, a chance to see new faces and pick up old habits which once felt like second nature but could now feel quite alien.
More than anything it will be a celebration, a symbolic end to what has been an incredibly difficult year and a half. It can’t come soon enough.
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