Fans finally return to
Surrey welcome back 1,000 spectators in first trial fixture in Britain, with hope of further relaxations of restrictions
The contrast between the often raucous massed crowds of the Cheltenham Festival and the sedate sight of county cricket could hardly be greater but, after a wait of 136 days since racing’s blue riband event, fans finally returned to one of British sport’s major venues yesterday.
There were only 1,000 supporters of Surrey and Middlesex at the Kia Oval for the first day of a two-day friendly, but it will go down as one of the more welcome landmarks in the ground’s 175-year history. “It’s been wonderful,” said Debbie Knight, a Surrey member. “I’ve really missed it. I spend all summer watching cricket.”
Harjot Sidhu, another Surrey member, said that he felt a “fuzzy feeling” of anticipation at the sight again of live cricket as Mark Stoneman took guard and Tim Murtagh began his run-up from the Pavilion End for the first ball of the morning.
View from the boundary: Surrey take on Middlesex at the Kia Oval (above), with spectators well spaced out (above right) and happy to follow safety protocols (right)
The unmistakable subsequent sound of ball on bat followed by polite but enthusiastic applause has rarely felt better. Face masks were not deemed necessary beyond ordering at two of the undercover bars and catering stands and, with the beer steadily flowing, it all felt strikingly relaxed and normal.
A pre-season friendly would usually attract only about 50 spectators, but Surrey fielded more than 10,000 telephone calls from their 13,500 members within an hour of tickets going on sale last Thursday.
Also present for the first of three pilot events with sports fans were representatives of the Sports Grounds Safety Authority, the England and Wales Cricket Board and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.
The target for a permanent return of fans is Oct 1, but the clear hope is that this trial will help persuade the Government to accelerate its planning. With gates opening at 9.30am for a leisurely 11am start inside a 25,000-capacity venue, there was rarely any risk of overcrowding, but the experience did prompt questions about the new SGSA guidelines and the ex