Fans watch Chelsea vs Leicester in London – (Photo: Glenn Kirk/EFE)
“I feel like I’m coming for the first time in my life.” This is how Englishman Sam Terry described the feeling of returning to the football match. Not for less. He has not entered the stadium since February last year, before the novel coronavirus pandemic. “It’s indescribable, it’s fantastic,” said the student to Estadao, before Chelsea’s Premier League match against Leicester City. Last Tuesday, 8,000 London club fans visited Stamford Bridge for the first time since December last year.
Gradually, those living in the UK are regaining certain freedoms, thanks to an effective vaccination campaign and a severe “lockdown” – the third – that has lasted more than three months and is gradually being relaxed. This week began a symbolic phase of reopening: Friends can now hug each other – that wasn’t allowed and we still hug each other. Bars and restaurants are back serving indoors and football fans have been able to return to the stadiums. As this is the last week of the season, the league has reorganized the final rounds so that all clubs receive their home fans. At the moment, a maximum of 10 thousand people.
On the way to Chelsea Stadium, fans on the subway mixed with those returning from work. A familiar sight in game days in London, but something you haven’t seen in a long time. They were groups of friends and families with children. There was a boy holding a poster asking for a T-shirt for the idol Kanti. “We were so lucky to get a ticket, we didn’t think that day would come so soon,” celebrated student Ben Vaughan, who returned to the field a year and three months later. “The feeling that things are back to normal, seeing people come in, it’s amazing.”
It is also a fresh start for those who make a living from football. Nine years ago, Gary Swales has been selling Chelsea scarves and flags outside the stadium. The reopening is an opportunity not just to restore income, but to try to overcome a personal tragedy. Swales lost his mother to COVID-19 in February. Before meeting us, he took out his cell phone and showed me, emotionally, photos of her on her 60th birthday in 2020, alongside his young daughter.
“We have to try, it’s good to get back to work and see some normalcy,” he said. “When everyone is vaccinated, maybe we can fill the stadiums again. We are counting on the tourists coming back here. The Premier League is a global league that everyone wants to see. If we can get it back, we have a chance.”
Nearby, Arthur Silva, the owner of a café frequented by Chelsea’s Brazilian players, has mixed feelings. “I am very happy, and at the same time worried about the variables (of coronavirus) and the increasing numbers of infections. I want everything to go well for everyone. I hope we will not have to close again,” said the Brazilian, who has seen the movement double in recent days.
Even with a successful vaccination campaign promising to immunize all UK adults with the first dose by July, the country is once again experiencing a period of uncertainty with increasing cases of the Indian variant calling into question a full exit from the lockdown.” Meanwhile, authorities are trying to calculate The risks of each step of the de-filtering.
In April and May, the British government spearheaded a project in which three matches at Wembley were a test of fans’ return, including last Saturday’s FA Cup final, when 21,000 fans saw Leicester City’s victory. Only Chelsea. If in those matches it was necessary to submit a negative covid-19 test to enter the stadium, this time at Stamford Bridge, the fan only had to show a statement confirming that he had not traveled abroad in the past six months or had symptoms of the new coronavirus.
Inside, they needed to wear masks and there was social distancing. However, the rules did not dampen the cheering of the crowd. There was a sense of a rematch four days before that. The Blues responded with a 2-1 victory. “I’m high,” said Sam Terry. “I’m definitely going to party at a bar.”
After more than a year of the pandemic and three “lockdowns”, the English prefer, as they say here, to be “carefully optimistic” about the future. But tonight at least, Chelsea fans gave themselves the right to celebrate.