Supporters spoke of their delight as English football took its first steps towards the return of crowds on Wednesday.
With national lockdown having ended and the country returning to regional restrictions to limit the spread of coronavirus, six English Football League clubs were able to open their turnstiles to a limited number of fans.
All were in tier two, meaning that up to 2,000 socially-distanced, mask-wearing supporters could attend, although most clubs were operating at a smaller number for this first occasion.
“I am absolutely delighted,” said Wycombe fan Jeff Harvey, whose side were hosting Stoke in the Sky Bet Championship. “It’s not a great night for it but we won’t let that spoil anything.”
Harvey, 79, has been watching the Chairboys for more than 25 years but, having not attended a game since March, has not seen them play live since their historic promotion last season.
He said: “The first thing I noticed was the new floodlights. They’re much better! They needed them after getting into the Championship.”
His pleasure was echoed by fellow fan John Jones, 81, of Little Kingshill.
“I am delighted to be able to come,” he said. “It is just what we need. Life hasn’t been the same without it. I just wish more could come.”
Luton fan Clive Stallwood, who managed to get a ticket for the Hatters’ Championship clash with Norwich, was in a similar mood.
“I’ll explain it as a football cliche – I’m over the moon,” said the 61-year-old from Bedfordshire. “It is fantastic. It has been too long.
“I have been coming to football for 50 years and Luton for 45 and every other Saturday it has been like missing a tooth. I did miss going to the pub before the game but you can’t have it all!”
The clubs have used their own methods to determine who should be admitted, with balloting systems and priority given to season-ticket holders.
After being @LudlowRaceClub most of the day made it back in time, via a pit stop or two, to take in my first League Two match of the season at the Abbey Stadium for @CambridgeUtdFC v @mansfieldtownfc ! Bring it on! pic.twitter.com/sPzWkU2ep3
— Graham Clark (@GrahamClark85) December 2, 2020
Some of those fortunate enough to get in did spare thoughts for those who missed out.
Nigel Browne, 65, a Cambridge supporter of 54 years said ahead of his side’s League Two clash with Mansfield: “It isn’t the same with only 2,000 fans but it is a step in the right direction.
“I will look forward to the time when everyone can come back. There needs to be an atmosphere.”
Despite the lack of numbers, Shrewsbury fan Paul Williams thought the atmosphere at Montgomery Waters Meadow for the visit of Accrington was good.
It was a first home match for new manager Steve Cotterill following the sacking of Sam Ricketts last week.
“He got a warm welcome but he may soon realise he’s got his work cut out,” said the 50-year-old. “Sam Ricketts might have been getting some stick if he still was here.
“It’s lovely to be be back. There’s only 2,000 but there’s still a bit of an atmosphere and I’m sure that helps the players.”
The first game to welcome back supporters was the 7pm kick-off between Carlisle and Salford in League Two.
The 16,000-capacity Brunton Park, which hosted 1,000 fans at a pilot event in September, comfortably housed 2,000 supporters around three sides of the pitch, both standing and seated.
They were also rewarded with the first goal of the night as Lewis Alessandra raised the decibel levels with a sweet strike after 33 minutes.
The other game to welcome back fans on Wednesday was the League One encounter between Charlton and MK Dons.