CompetitionsPremier League

Mixed emotions at London Stadium as fans return to Premier League grounds

Xenia sports – London 

West Ham fans sampled both ecstasy and agony when 2,000 of them returned to the London Stadium on Saturday for the first time since Covid-19 restrictions were introduced.

The locals were off their seats when Tomas Soucek fired them into a first-half lead over Manchester United in the first Premier League game to be played in front of supporters since March 9, when 32,125 spectators witnessed Leicester beat Aston Villa 4-0 at the King Power Stadium.

However, their joy turned to misery as United belatedly sparked into life, with second-half goals from Paul Pogba, Mason Greenwood and substitute Marcus Rashford securing a 3-1 win for the visitors.

Chelsea fans had a much more enjoyable evening as they saw their side come from behind to beat Leeds 3-1 at Stamford Bridge and go top of the table.

Patrick Bamford had silenced his former club’s followers with a fourth-minute opener, but Olivier Giroud’s fifth goal in four days, a thumping Kurt Zouma header and Christian Pulisic’s stoppage-time strike ensured they went home happy after a game which at times was greeted by pantomime cat-calls from the stands.

Elsewhere in the Premier League, there were no fans at Burnley’s match with Everton or Manchester City’s home fixture with Fulham due to Lancashire and Greater Manchester being placed in tier three of the Government’s system of restrictions.

Brentford supporters were able to sample life inside their new stadium for the first time when Blackburn visited in the Sky Bet Championship.

The Bees bid farewell to an empty Griffin Park with a 3-1 win over Swansea on July 29, with the coronavirus pandemic ensuring matches were still only able to be played behind closed doors at that point.

A month later and the Brentford Community Stadium was officially opened, but with London placed in tier two by the Government when lockdown ended on Wednesday, it meant 2,000 spectators were able to be welcomed back.

Saturday’s 2-2 draw ensured they were able to watch their team live for the first time since a 5-0 win over Sheffield Wednesday on March 7, but more importantly they were finally able to take in their new 17,250-seater venue in person.

The return of Millwall fans to The Den for the visit of Derby was marred when some booed as players from both sides took a knee in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Booing was heard in social media footage after referee Darren England blew his whistle to signal the start of the now traditional move and, although Lions boss Gary Rowett later expressed his disappointment, he suggested the gesture was in danger of becoming “empty”.

When the game did get under way, Jason Knight’s goal handed interim Rams manager Wayne Rooney the first win of his reign.

Lower down the football pyramid, Harrogate were able to play an EFL match in front of a home crowd for the first time.

Simon Weaver’s team secured promotion to League Two in August after coming through the National League play-offs, where games were played behind closed doors, and they were forced to start this campaign with no spectators in attendance.

That finally changed on Saturday when a crowd of 500 were welcomed into the EnviroVent Stadium for the clash with Forest Green, which ended 1-0 to the visitors.

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