Singing allowed: What will Carrow Road be like when fans return?
- Credit: Archant
It is the "very special moment" everyone involved with Norwich City Football Club has been waiting for - the day supporters return to Carrow Road.
Under Tier Two restrictions, up to 2,000 supporters will be allowed into the stadium to see the Canaries entertain Sheffield Wednesday in the Championship on Saturday - and on Wednesday against Nottingham Forest.
And the message from chief operating officer Ben Kensell is that the club is ready, eager and relishing welcoming supporters back into the ground.
Mr Kensell said: "It feels like a very special moment and one that is a long time coming. Even with the team in a good position at the top end of the league and bringing through academy players, football without fans just isn't football - that's always been the one thing that has been missing.
"We were one of the first clubs to put plans together and that was out of necessity and out of urgency - both against a financial backdrop of losing more than £25m as a direct result of the pandemic and in wanting to do right by our loyal fanbase."
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Saturday's game is expected to just about prove a sell-out, but Mr Kensell said there were still "a few hundred" tickets remaining for the visit of Nottingham Forest on Wednesday. However, the chief operating officer said he did not see this as a lack of support.
He said: "I don't see it as a cause for concern, to each their own and I appreciate there may well still be some lingering anxiety coming out of a national lockdown. More than 20,000 people have committed to secure their seat for 2021/22, regardless of what league we are playing in - that speaks volumes.
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"Our biggest priority has been making sure that those who do feel ready to come back have the opportunity to do so and feel safe when they do. We have put hundreds of hours of work into making that possible and we're confident everyone who does want to return now will feel secure."
With season ticket holders agreeing to pay forward for next season, each match for the remainder of the season will be priced the exact same - £30 for adults, £20 for over-65s and £10 for under 18s.
Sales for each game will be done in four windows, first to season ticket holders who are yet to go to a game, next to all season ticket holders, third to members and then finally as a general sale.
Mr Kensell said: "We set the prices based on the average for the 2018-19 season, when we were in a similar position. Given not everyone will be able to attend every game, we felt it important for there to be consistency - and we think the prices are fair.
"We would love to be able to let people in for free, but given our self-funding business model that is just not possible, particularly given the losses the pandemic has brought.
Greg Pillinger, the club's head of operations, added that secure plans were already in place for the club to welcome attendances of 4,000 and 8,000 as and when the government allows.
He said: "We initially chose to contain the 2,000 fans to a single stand as logistically it is what made the most sense. But once we can increase the capacity we will then look to open the lower tiers of the Barclay and Regency Security stands.
"Then, depending on whether seats are booked in groups of two, four or six we also have preparations in place to use the upper tiers too."
Mr Pillinger added that preparing the stadium to be Covid-secure posed a range of additional challenges, which will also see stewards take on extra roles and responsibilities.
He said: "On a normal matchday we would have 27,000 fans in the ground and 300 stewards. Here we will have 2,000 and 100 stewards, so we've had to call upon a third of our workforce while operating at less than 10pc capacity.
"On top of their usual roles of security and customer service, stewards are also being asked to almost act as Covid marshals, keeping on top of enforcing social distancing and reminding people to wear masks to and from their seats."
What will it look like?
A slip lane queuing system outside the ground will open at 12.30pm. Here fans will have photo IDs checked against their tickets for track and trace purposes, bags checked and an opportunity to sanitise their hands.
The turnstiles will then open at 1.30pm for supporters to make their way to their seats. Fans will be asked to wear face coverings when inside the ground and on the concourses, which can be removed once they are in their seats.
Four kiosks will be open serving refreshments with a socially distanced queueing system marked out. The same will apply to the toilets, with doors clearly marked with an occupancy limit.
Fans will be required to socially distance inside the ground, but any speculation that singing will be discouraged has been quashed.
Mr Kensell said: "Not only would this be difficult to police, but we are confident fans will be sufficiently distanced to do it safely and we want the cheering the team on - we want an atmosphere and we want people to enjoy themselves."