The new ways fans can watch football together

A Vue Cinemas advert trailing their venues screening West Ham v Manchester City in the Premier League
More than 20 Vue cinemas are screening Premier League football over the next two weeks

With packed stands looking a long way off, football fans are having to find alternative ways to watch live games together.

Several clubs are allowing a limited number of supporters to watch matches on TV screens in the hospitality areas of their grounds - as long as they don't have a direct view of the pitch.

Cinemas are showing Premier League matches, offering fans the chance to watch football with popcorn in the dark.

Is this the next best thing until crowds are able to return? And what has the reaction been?

Where are fans returning?

In the Championship, Norwich City fans will be able to watch the club's next four fixtures, including home games against Wycombe Wanderers and Millwall, in lounges at Carrow Road.

It follows an event last week that saw 200 socially distanced fans watch a live screening of Norwich's 2-1 win at Rotherham in the stadium.

Bristol City supporters have already been back inside Ashton Gate for matches, with the sports bar and pizzeria open for Tuesday's defeat by Middlesbrough and more fans set to watch Saturday's home game against Swansea there too.

Middlesbrough are set to welcome fans into hospitality suites at the Riverside following a trial event of 50 members of staff and families for the draw against Reading on 17 October.

Millwall and Brentford are also planning to screen matches inside their grounds this weekend, while League One side Hull City will host supporters in one of the hospitality areas of the KCOM Stadium for the match against Peterborough on Saturday.

Millwall said such schemes are "imperative from a financial point of view" for clubs who have "been left to fend for themselves throughout this crisis".

In each case, social distancing guidelines for hospitality venues, relevant to what tier they are in, will be observed and fans will be blocked from watching the action on the pitch.

What about cinemas?

Vue cinemas are screening Premier League matches, including the recent Merseyside derby, West Ham's match against Manchester City this weekend and Sheffield United versus City on 31 October.

One venue showing this weekend's match - the Stratford Westfield centre - is 10 minutes walk from the Hammers' London Stadium, which will be empty.

Tickets start at £4.99 and fans must wear face masks when not eating or drinking, with shouting and chanting not allowed.

Why not in the stands?

Plans for supporters to return to sporting events from 1 October were postponed because of a rise in coronavirus infections, and crowds may not come back until the end of March at the earliest.

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said this month he "accepted people's frustrations at the inconsistency" of rules that mean socially distanced audiences are allowed at some theatres for events but fans are not permitted in stadiums.

However, he said the "very clear advice" was to impose restrictions instead of allowing fans to return as that would mean "a lot of people coming week in and week out going to sports stadiums up and down the country".

Fans have been able to attend games at seventh-tier grounds and below for men's and women's football since August, although the Football Association has now asked spectators not to travel into or out of areas under tier 3 restrictions.

What has been the reaction?

West Ham boss David Moyes said on Friday he wanted an explanation as to why fans can watch the Manchester City game in a nearby cinema but not in the stadium.

"The best I can do is the leave the government, the people who know the best and are speaking to all the advisors, to that because I'm certainly not an expert on a pandemic," he said.

"But I watched the European games this week and have seen crowds back in different countries, and it's hard to believe we can't do that.

"Maybe there's other reasons - maybe it's the travelling on the Tube, the bus, maybe it's the pubs. But if that is the case, please come out and give us an explanation as to why we can't do it."

Manchester United executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward questioned why football fans should be "treated differently" to those attending indoor concerts.

"Fans are the bedrock of this game and some of the inconsistencies out there are frustrating for them and for the clubs," he said.

Football Supporters' Association chairman Malcolm Clarke told BBC Sport that fans being able to watch matches in hospitality loungers but not in the stands showed the rules are "illogical".

"Football clubs, working with the Sports Ground Safety Authority, have done a great job in making stadiums safe for fans," he said.

"But if the government won't allow this, it is understandable that clubs will open their facilities for fans to have a meal and a pint.

"This 'clubhouse phenomenon' is a consequence of the illogicality of government rules."

Fans' reaction on social media

Jackie: All very bizarre, no rationale behind it at all.

Jwands: We are in a global pandemic and total consistency isn't going to happen. I love football. But it is not important in the current grand scheme of things.

Andrew: How is this even right? In a dark room indoors wearing a mask? How is this safer than in an open air stadium, spread out safely wearing a mask?

JeromeP: Not sure what the issue is. The clubs are essentially operating like pubs which happen to be in football grounds. A few hundred are going so not like the thousands of a normal match day. Not sure why you'd want to go to the stadium to watch on a screen though.

Colin: How is sitting in an enclosed cinema safer than a massive open stadium? It doesn't make any sense does it? I'm not suggesting it would be safe to allow full stadiums but maybe 30% capacity with everybody at the correct distance with controlled entry and exit.

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