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BACK BEHIND CLOSED DOORS: Fans To Miss Out As London Moves Into Tier 3

Sport in London will have to move back behind closed doors after the capital was placed into the highest tier of coronavirus restrictions.

Only a fortnight ago it was announced that up to 2,000 fans were allowed into football matches for the first time since March, when London was initially placed in tier two following the second lockdown.

But the move into tier three from Wednesday means the capital’s stadiums will once again be empty.

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West Ham hosted 2,000 fans when they played Manchester United at the London Stadium last weekend, but their home match against Crystal Palace on Wednesday night will be behind closed doors, as will the matches at Arsenal and Fulham.

Arsenal said they were “disappointed” they would not be able to welcome fans to the Emirates Stadium for the clash with Southampton, while Fulham said they understood “the frustration and disappointment” of their supporters, some of whom would have been in the stands for the meeting with Brighton.

In fact, the only midweek Premier League fixture to have a crowd will be the top-of-the-table clash at Anfield, where Liverpool meet Tottenham.

London’s three other Premier League clubs – Tottenham, Chelsea and Crystal Palace – will feel the impact when they play at home this weekend.

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Chelsea boss Frank Lampard, whose side host West Ham on Monday, said it would be difficult to go back to playing without fans.

“We’ve seen already and felt the backing they give you and what it does to the game,” he said, speaking before the Government announced London was being moved to tier three.

“I also think – I’m not telling the Government what to do – that we can control 2,000 fans coming into the stadium if they’re coming from within that tier or however they want to do that to keep things moving along. It’s unfortunate to say the least.”

As of Wednesday only Liverpool, Everton, Brighton and Southampton in the top flight will be allowed 2,000 fans, until the restrictions are eased.

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QPR and Watford both confirmed that 2,000 fans would still be attending their Sky Bet Championship home games on Tuesday.

The William Hill World Darts Championship, at London’s Alexandra Palace, planned to have 1,000 fans in attendance every day.

The sport’s biggest event begins on Tuesday but will have to be a fan-free zone by Wednesday.

Organisers confirmed the opening night would still go ahead with a crowd and said that, with the Government’s decision subject to review on December 23, “a further announcement in relation to tickets for the post-Christmas action” would be made in due course.

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Defending champion Peter Wright had earlier spoken about the prospect of playing in front of the event’s trademark raucous crowd.

He said: “I am definitely looking forward to it, defending champion as well is going to be pretty special.

“The most important thing is that it is near Christmas and I get to go out in my Christmas outfit, up on stage in front of 1,000 people in the crowd, that is going to be more special, really, really special.

“You couldn’t have it anywhere else really. If they had it at Milton Keynes or Coventry I would have gone nuts, I would have put myself in the loony bin.”

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August’s World Snooker Championship had a small crowd for just one day before a tightening of the restrictions forced it back behind closed doors.

Current tournaments are taking place without spectators in Milton Keynes, but it is hoped that the Masters in January, also at Alexandra Palace, can allow 1,000 fans in.

In rugby union London Irish, who play at Brentford’s new stadium, have confirmed tickets for their European Challenge Cup tie against Pau next Sunday have been taken off sale.

The Recovery Fund, which is intended to support publicly owned leisure facilities through the coronavirus pandemic, has opened.

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Made up of £100million of Exchequer investment, it opened for applications on Monday on the Sport England website and will run until January, 8 with eligible local authorites able to submit an expression of interest form until December 21.

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said: “It’s vital that we keep ourselves fighting fit through this winter and local authority leisure centres are crucial to this.

“This £100million fund will help keep leisure centres across the country open. I urge leisure centres to bid for the money and people to make the most of these precious local facilities.”

Additional Reporting By The Press Association 

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