Football fans returned to the stadiums today for the first time in six months when 1,000 fans watched Carlisle United play Southend.
Today's game, which ended 2-0, was the first of eight games in the Football League in which spectators were invited back to sporting events.
Carlisle supporters have been warned that they have no doubt that antisocial distancing would lead to an early exit.
The extent of the precautionary measures against coronavirus was so great that even before the first whistle of the day the intercom announcer instructed fans not to return the match ball to the field of play when it entered the seating areas as it was no longer needed first infected to protect any virus threat from players.
For the first time since March, Carlisle United let 1,000 fans into their stadium to watch the game against Southend United
Fans have not been able to visit stadiums since the coronavirus lockdown in March. Most professional football games are still played in empty stadiums
Norwich City welcomed supported fans for their game against Preston North End in one of two championship games to allow fans to return
In the other championship with fans, Middlesbrough will face AFC Bournemouth. The fans are forced to distance themselves from each other on the pitch
Home fans attend eight soccer games today
Middlesbrough versus AFC Bournemouth
Norwich City versus Preston North End
Blackpool versus Swindon Town
Charlton Athletic versus Doncaster Rovers
Hull City versus Crewe Alexandra
Shrewsbury Town versus Northampton Town
Carlisle United versus Southend United
Forest Green Rovers versus Bradford City
Fans walked through the turnstiles for the first time since March when EFL bosses warned the move was the first stage to prevent clubs with an already registered £ 50million deficit from bleeding off more money, fearing that the total could reach £ 250 million. The time for this football season ends next spring.
Premier League bosses have been closely following the decision of the lower leagues to allow restricted access to fans to see if it will also usher in a fresh start and re-open the box office to fans of clubs like champions Liverpool and close rivals Manchester City could.
Up to eight thousand fans at eight games in the three divisions of the English Football League were greeted again, but the move caused a backlash with angry supporters asking why it was safe to watch football but no social or family gatherings of more than six People keep people.
But those lucky 1,000 home fans in Carlisle could barely hide their excitement today and had shown their enthusiasm for today's Covid-10 curtain by blocking the club's phones for hours when the partial reopening was announced on Wednesday.
One fan, 41-year-old school teacher Heather Herring, who wore Carlisle jerseys with her husband Mark, said: “It was a very long six months without our football.
“It seems like a first step towards returning to something like a normal life.
"I know all of the safety procedures because I'm a school teacher, but I can see that no risk is taken here."
Mr. Herring added: “It's fantastic to be back. I spent almost five hours waiting on the phone for my slot to buy the tickets. We really have the golden tickets. "
Each of the 1,000 supporters – no Southend fans were invited to the party – had their body temperature taken and were asked to wear masks, keep a safe distance and clean their hands regularly.
Carlisle United Stadium was one of eight stadiums where 1,000 home fans were able to watch from the stands today as part of a trial
Fans must adhere to strict social distancing rules in the stadium and not throw stubborn balls back onto the field
Each member of the crowd had his or her body temperature taken and was asked to wear masks, keep a safe distance and disinfect their hands regularly.
Carlisle United Stadium has enough seating for over 18,000 spectators, but today's game saw a fraction of that in the stands
The club officials told the fans not to hold each other up and to use the toilets sparingly on the 18,000-seat site
Fans have returned to eight football league games today, including one in Norwich on Carrow Road.
Three generations of the Norwich Cooper family said they saved their cheers during the lockdown, hoping fans could make enough noise to fill the 27,000-seat stadium.
"It's been taking a long time and we're going to scream as loud as we can," said Phil Cooper, 50, a Norwich financial advisor.
His daughter Holly, 22, a therapy assistant, said the months without football had been "tough."
Carrow Road welcomed Norwich City fans back today as the club look to recover after relegation from the Premier League
"It wasn't the best season for us last year when we were relegated from the Premier League," she said, "but hopefully this is the first step back to normal – and maybe promotion!"
Her grandmother Jan, 77, said the cloudless weather at 20 ° C was a good omen for the game: "It has to be a win after waiting all the time, doesn't it?" She said.
The Harrisons, a family of key workers from Bury St. Edmunds, were also delighted with the restart.
"It will be very emotional to be back inside," said GP Paul Harrison, 51.
"I'm looking forward to a win," said his 23-year-old teacher son Danny. He said former city manager Alex Neil, now the head of Preston North End, would be welcomed by Canary Islands fans.
"We're a friendly club and we want our old heroes to come back in different colors too," he said.
Blackpool fans shared their "joy" in seeing their team live after having formed socially distant queues to get into the ground.
Fans were kept apart at the turnstiles as they came to Bloomfield Road for Blackpool's Division One game against Swindon Town.
They wore face masks to enter the stadium, but the bars were closed and they were even prevented from using the toilets.
Blackpool City fans cheered from the stands as football returned to Lancashire six months after the Covid-19 lockdown
The Lancashire team was selected as one of the pilot projects to allow 1.00 fans on the premises for the first time since March.
61-year-old Blackpool fan Steve Hodgson said: “I am very happy to be back. I could not wait for it.
“We were told what to do and what not to do, including wearing a face mask until we got to our seats.
"We can cheer, but I don't think it's encouraged."
Fifty-five year old finance worker Duncan Cowburn said, “Everyone seems to have been misled.
"I'm excited to be back and I feel safe and secure to be here."
55-year-old businessman Andy Higgins said, “We got bottled water, but you can't get beer or anything.
“Everyone is in their own department and we have been told not to use the toilet unless we have to.
"All the fans are behaving – everyone is just so happy to be here."
Sean Roberts, 47, who brought his 11-year-old son Rocco to the game, said: “It feels safe and people keep apart to get into the ground.
"It's just great to be back."
Arrivals at Brunton Park were given a temperature check before they could go back inside for the first time in six months
Carlisle fans had a lot to celebrate on their return to the stadium as their side took their first win of the season 2-0
On Saturday afternoon, families joined other die-hard supporters on the Carlisle United grounds for the League Two game against Southend United
Today's pilot took part in 1,000 fans in the hope that soon more viewers could return to games across the country
While Lancashire is currently under local lockdown, Blackpool is exempt, which means 1,000 fans were able to attend the pilot game this afternoon
The game's stewards were responsible for ensuring that viewers followed the rules of social distancing and prevented the spread of Covid
Large parts of the stadium remain cordoned off to keep fans apart within the framework of social distancing rules
Carlisle typically sells around 1,800 season tickets, which means 800 have been disappointed.
They were also asked not to get each other up and use the toilets on the site, which has a capacity of 18,000, sparingly.
One of them was 58 year old truck driver Paul Barrett who was still making the 250 mile journey from his home near Caernarfon, Wales to soak up the atmosphere and see happy friends who had tickets.
When he came out of the gift shop in Brunton Park with a bag of purchases, including the team's jersey for the 20-21 season, he said, “This club is my life.
“My father Raymond, who is 87 years old, is a lifelong supporter and I have been for over 50 years.
“This corona virus is deadly and still dangerous, and we all need to be as careful as possible, especially as it looks like it's getting bad all over the country.
Paul Barrett drove to the club 250 miles from his home in Wales to see Carlisle United. He said, "This club is my life."
School teacher Heather Herring, 41, was out of the club for today's game with her husband after six months
“But I can see that the club is doing everything it can to keep people safe and enjoy football.
Hopefully this will lead to more supporters being admitted here and for other reasons in the near future.
"I don't mind not taking part in the game." I'll see it online with my dad. "
60-year-old hot dog seller Alan Seggi, whose Lakeland steaks shop typically sold several thousand groceries to fans before the pandemic, was back in business, but with a lower inventory.
Hot dog seller Alan Seggi said he expected to sell around 200 hot dogs as fans returned today
He said, "I'm not really expecting any money today and will probably sell around 200 hot dogs."
"As soon as the game starts I'll pack up and be on my way.
“But today is a learning process. We could be like this for a few more years with no sign of normalcy.
“I brought a blue rope and some temporary barriers to keep the fans and my staff at a safe distance while the food is being served.
"I only knew we would be back on Thursday and there is only a limited supply as the fans are not allowed to get out of the ground as usual at halftime."
"But keep your fingers crossed, everything is going well today and it will be a big step towards getting football back to normal."
Fans said the ground was "a lot quieter than it should be" but were happy to be back after waiting six months to see their team live
Brian Ballantyne, 59, said, “It was great to get back in the ground even though it's a lot quieter than it should be.
"I have nothing against all the extra precautions. We have to be safe while we enjoy our football."
His friend Stewart Winter, 47, added: “I read that parts of the north are being closed again because of the virus that is creeping back.
"I wasn't sure if we could still go into the ground or if the league could change their mind, and I'm surprised we're still in the ground. But it's wonderful."
Steven Archibald, 45, and his nine-year-old daughter Elena were also among the lucky 1000.
Audibald Mr. Audibald said: “Football is an important part of our lives and it's great to have it back for us.
Carlisle United plays Southend United in the second round of the Sky Beat League Two games
Carlisle lost the opening game of the season 3-0, while Southend United lost 4-0
"We need more fans on the site, but of course we have to be safe and sensible."
When asked why she likes playing soccer, Elena said, "Because my daddy does it."
On the grounds of Brunton Park there is only one pub nearby, The Bee Hive across from the stadium.
Today, too, it had to follow strict Covid-19 rules, with beer only being served to those who had booked in advance to ensure restrictions were followed.
David Baldwin, Chief Executive Officer of the EFL urged fans to understand the difficulties involved in getting mass numbers back through the turnstiles.
In a message to the fans, he also warned of the financial worries that have fallen on the three leagues.
While the players could pack up on the field, the fans had to keep their distance in the stands
Today's pilot events give cause for optimism that sports viewers may return in greater numbers
He said, “The financial picture remains strong. EFL clubs lost £ 50m in gate revenue in the 2019-20 season and coupled with a decrease in commercial revenue, the financial pressure on our clubs is relentless.
“While the league has been working on several plans to fund unattended clubs, it is estimated that another £ 200 million will be lost if spectators do not return during the 2020-21 campaign.
"The contribution of fans to football's finances should not be underestimated and is critical to the viability of league football and all EFL clubs."
The pilots give cause for optimism that large numbers of spectators may return soon, but I understand that the health and wellbeing of the supporters and their wider communities will continue to be a priority.
"So we will continue to let the government guide us in what is allowed."