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Opinion: Cambridge United should be congratulated for efforts in piloting safe return of fans to EFL grounds



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Cambridge United v Fulham . Picture: Keith Heppell. (42173338)
Cambridge United v Fulham . Picture: Keith Heppell. (42173338)

Everyone connected with Cambridge United should give themselves a pat on the back - it should be allowed under government guidelines, just as long as you are not patting anyone else on the back outside of your social bubble.

From the top to the bottom, the U’s could hardly have done anything better against Fulham under-21s in the EFL Trophy on Tuesday night, the first of two matches as part of the government’s pilot scheme to re-introduce supporters to stadiums.

There are so many people that could and should be mentioned - from the stadium management side to ticketing, to be chosen as a pilot club in the first place to hosting the media - and when you have a roll call such as that, you know that you have one club working together.

This also extends to the supporters.

We are creatures of habit, and one of our greatest habits is our sport, particularly football.

Our routines are ingrained, where and what we eat and drink, where we sit or stand, where we park, it can even come down to which turnstile we go through.

But in the current climate, that all goes out of the window.

Cambridge United v Fulham . Picture: Keith Heppell. (42173356)
Cambridge United v Fulham . Picture: Keith Heppell. (42173356)

New measures were introduced, one-way systems put into place, social bubbles had to be adhered to, and stewards managed the exit of stands row by row after the game.

What was striking though, was just how well everyone took on board all of the guidance and instructions.

United used social media channels brilliantly to make sure that as many, if not all, avenues were covered and communicated in advance of the game - there was little to no doubt what could and would be expected. This included with the media - with temperature checks, colour-coded zones, and protocols all set out.

It has to be said that it was just great to see fans back in the Abbey. The empty stadium was strange for the pre-season match against Ipswich Town, and that is for two main reasons.

One is simply the atmosphere during a game, it is a big shielded space to have no-one in it. The second is after the game and the lack supporters eulogising, or otherwise, about the performance.

Therefore, a 2-0 win for United against Fulham under-21s was the perfect tonic to the evening.

Cambridge United v Fulham . Picture: Keith Heppell. (42173327)
Cambridge United v Fulham . Picture: Keith Heppell. (42173327)

“For supporters to be able to see the team play for the first time in so long, I’m sure it was nice,” said United head coach Mark Bonner.

“For us, to just get some encouragement of an applause when something good happens you take for granted. You forget what that felt like and that can keep momentum and really build confidence in players.

“It was great to just walk out for the warm-up and see people here. It’s been strange for the last few months not having that.

“We’re really pleased with that, we’re pleased with people turning up, we’re pleased that people have followed the guidelines.

“We hope it’s gone well, and we hope it can go well again on Saturday because not only is important for us but we’re flying the flag for English football at the moment and what a brilliant position to be in as a club.

“We’ve tried to set a mentality about going first, and doing things that other people don’t do. If we can set that mentality, it bodes really well for the future, and so it was great to see people here and we look forward to seeing them again at the weekend.

Cambridge United v Fulham . Picture: Keith Heppell. (42173351)
Cambridge United v Fulham . Picture: Keith Heppell. (42173351)

United get the chance to do it all again on Saturday against Carlisle United in Sky Bet League Two, with an expected additional 1,300 fans - there were 862 supporters for the EFL Trophy game.

With all eyes on how well it has gone, the rest of the EFL can rest assured and commend Cambridge United that they have done all they can to allow for the safe return of fans to football stadia - it will ultimately come down to wider government regulations across the country as to whether it can continue.

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