Ian Wright: No fans at a game, yet thousands can sit in the Albert Hall… it makes no sense

Published: 9 October 2020, 4:09 PM

Post Desk : We need to get football fans back into stadiums as fast as possible.

We need it to make the games better, to help communities reconnect, to keep lower-league clubs financially viable, and to support jobs and small businesses in football.

I can tell you as a player that football without fans just isn’t the same. In January 1993, in a game against Nottingham Forest, I scored one of my favourite goals for Arsenal in a 2-0 win.

I ran on to a through-ball, struck it sweetly and watched it crash into the top corner.

But then something weird happened: there was no emotion from behind the goal, no reaction and no celebrating fans because the only thing staring back at me were the painted faces of the Highbury mural.

The mural was strange. It left a whole section of the ground without fans while we built the new North Bank, and our players hated it. In fact, we lost the first game we played in front of it. And I’m often reminded of it right now because football behind closed doors is even weirder.

It is great to have football back and we have seen some brilliant games and plenty of goals over the past few months. I’ve spoken to loads of fans who say that football has helped them deal with the challenges of Covid. And we’ve seen first-hand how football supporters have rallied together to support their communities and the NHS. That’s what football fans do. And that is why it’s frustrating to see how the Government is treating the fans of our national game.

It’s also the little things around the ground that are special — like driving into Selhurst Park as a player and hearing someone shout out in the car park that they think you’ll score. Or leaning out the window of the Highbury dressing room to talk to fans on the street about a game we’d won. I can’t talk to you to about football without the impact of the fans, it’s a pointless conversation.

It was the same for me when playing non-league football. Some of my best memories were playing for Ten-Em-Bee, when the entire Honor Oak estate would come out to watch us on Sundays. It was the thing that our entire block looked forward to every weekend. It didn’t matter whether it was 50 or 500 people because what they added by being there made football what it is. And that will be the same at so many League 1, League 2 and National League clubs in London and all around the country now.

As a player and fan you are also very aware of the impact that your club has on the whole communities. The small businesses become part of your routine as well. I was gutted when I heard that Piebury Corner, just round the corner from the Emirates, has had to close. I loved that place so much and whenever I was able to attend a match that’s where I’m having a Tony Adams (steak & ale) and pint.

It is great to have football back and we have seen some brilliant games and plenty of goals over the past few months. I’ve spoken to loads of fans who say that football has helped them deal with the challenges of Covid. And we’ve seen first-hand how football supporters have rallied together to support their communities and the NHS. That’s what football fans do. And that is why it’s frustrating to see how the Government is treating the fans of our national game.

It’s also the little things around the ground that are special — like driving into Selhurst Park as a player and hearing someone shout out in the car park that they think you’ll score. Or leaning out the window of the Highbury dressing room to talk to fans on the street about a game we’d won. I can’t talk to you to about football without the impact of the fans, it’s a pointless conversation.

It was the same for me when playing non-league football. Some of my best memories were playing for Ten-Em-Bee, when the entire Honor Oak estate would come out to watch us on Sundays. It was the thing that our entire block looked forward to every weekend. It didn’t matter whether it was 50 or 500 people because what they added by being there made football what it is. And that will be the same at so many League 1, League 2 and National League clubs in London and all around the country now.

As a player and fan you are also very aware of the impact that your club has on the whole communities. The small businesses become part of your routine as well. I was gutted when I heard that Piebury Corner, just round the corner from the Emirates, has had to close. I loved that place so much and whenever I was able to attend a match that’s where I’m having a Tony Adams (steak & ale) and pint.

You don’t have to look far to see the extent to which all the clubs across the football pyramid are going to keep their staff and players safe. Of course they are going to do the same with their fans. Without those fans there is no club. So why can’t they be trusted like other industries have been?

I completely understand that the health of the nation is the priority and we need to be cautious. But it’s not like the whole of society is closed right now. With the right health protocols you can go out for dinner, have a drink or go and buy some clothes. And now you can even go to the theatre and cinema.

That’s why I’m backing the Standard campaign to get fans back into grounds. How many more clubs and small businesses in our communities have to go under before they are even given a chance to show that they can put in place the necessary protocols and get fans in safely? We are running out of time.