Lifelong Arsenal fan John Williamson believes tickets for the club’s first home game in front of supporters for nine months will be as sought-after as those for cup finals and title deciders.
Arsenal have announced that 2,000 tickets will be available on a first-come-first-served basis for next Thursday’s Europa League group-stage clash with Rapid Vienna – with fans back at the Emirates Stadium for the first time since a 1-0 win over West Ham on March 7.
The Gunners learned on Thursday afternoon that the stadium is in tier two of the Government’s new regionalised approach to tackling the coronavirus pandemic, and will now be able to welcome spectators in for the clash with the Austrian side.
It's been a long nine long months without our fans.
And our matches simply haven't been the same.
So we're delighted to confirm that we'll be safely welcoming 2,000 fans back to Emirates Stadium for next week's #UEL fixture 👇
— Arsenal (@Arsenal) November 26, 2020
A club statement read: “It’s been almost nine long months since we had fans in attendance at Emirates Stadium and our matches have simply not been the same without you.
“While we appreciate that reduced capacity matches will be far from being ‘back to normal’, we can’t wait to welcome our fans back home for what will be a historic moment for the club.”
The fixture means Arsenal will be the first top-flight club to play in front of fans since last season was halted by the epidemic.
Due to the proximity of the game to when the announcement was made, Arsenal will sell the 2,000 tickets on a first-come-first-served basis.
Only gold and premium members will be eligible, with the tickets split across the lower tier and club-level seating.
Williamson is one of those able to apply and, having been watching Arsenal live for over 50 years, he is hopeful of landing a ticket to what is now set to be a memorable occasion.
“Yes it certainly will be,” he replied when asked by the PA news agency if a ticket to the game will be as sought-after as those for FA Cup finals and title-winning trips to Anfield and Old Trafford.
“It is a strange situation, only 2,000 people so a ticket is going to be like gold dust, it is going to be like applying for Glastonbury tickets with everybody on the phone.”
While measures will be in place inside the stadium and the Emirates will be nowhere near capacity, Williamson – who made the trip to watch the reverse fixture in Austria in October – can only see benefits from fans being allowed back.
“This is the longest I’ve not been to a home game since I started watching in 1969 – it can only be a good thing,” he added.
“I do understand people’s concerns but for me personally it is good for everyone’s state of mind.
“It is a positive and a step in the right direction for football as a whole. You don’t really know what people’s attitudes are, all my friends want to go but I’m not sure if the wider audience will maybe think against it.”
Manchester United’s trip to West Ham will be the first Premier League game to have supporters back but there are currently no details on how ticketing will work for league fixtures.
Clubs in the EFL have been desperate to get fans back into stadiums, because they rely much more heavily on matchday revenue than Premier League sides backed by a lucrative television deal.
WELCOME BACK 🙌🙌
🏟 2,000 fans👩⚕🧑⚕ 20% of seats gifted to @NHSuk📅 Sunday 6 December
More on the news that @Twickenhamstad will be allowed to host supporters next month 👇
— England Rugby (@EnglandRugby) November 26, 2020
League One club Northampton said they were aiming to allow 1,000 season ticket holders into their ground for the December 5 visit of Doncaster as a pilot event.
The EFL said a total of 34 of its clubs were in tier two, potentially impacting on six matches next week.
Elsewhere, the Rugby Football Union announced 2,000 spectators will be allowed into Twickenham for England’s final Autumn Nations Cup match on December 6 – with one fifth of the tickets going to local NHS workers.