Challenging times ahead for Newcastle United and the Premier League ahead of the big kick-off
Just as coronavirus cases are spiking across the country, Premier League clubs are preparing for the new season.
Clubs are also getting ready to reopen turnstiles next month, when we’ll see capacity crowds back inside stadiums.
However, the surging infection rate, due to the more transmissible Delta variant of Covid-19, has the potential to wreak havoc over the coming months.
One, unnamed Premier League club has already suffered a coronavirus outbreak amongst its squad, according to the Daily Telegraph.
The Daily Mail, meanwhile, report that “several” Newcastle players have been forced to self-isolate since returning for the start of pre-season training last week.
It's clear that clubs, already grappling with the financial impact of the pandemic, face a challenging few months on and off the pitch given the prevalence of Covid-19 infections, most notably in the North East, which has the highest rates in England.
The return of fans – the Government will remove the remaining Covid-19 restrictions on Monday – adds additional layers of risk.
United are still following strict Premier League protocols at the training ground. The club’s players are still getting tested twice weekly.
The club was hit by a serious Covid-19 outbreak late last year which sidelined a number of key players, and head coach Steve Bruce spoke at length of the toll this took both on individual players and staff members – and the team as a whole.
While it’s business as usual in the training bubble, the club is also preparing for the return of capacity 52,000-capacity crowds.
Newcastle are waiting for guidance from the Premier League ahead of next month’s season-opener against West Ham United on August 15.
Covid certification – proof of full vaccination, or evidence of a negative test – may be needed to gain entry to a Premier League stadium this season. So-called “Covid passports” were used at Euro 2020, with games at Wembley having effectively been test events.
Clubs, it’s claimed, will be “strongly incentivised” to use Covid certification. The idea of staggered entry times has also been floated.
Bruce spoke of his keenness to see fans back inside St James’s Park in May.
“We’ve said for so long the spectacle’s not the same (without fans),” said Bruce. “I’m delighted we’re edging towards being normal, which I think we all can’t wait for, to get normality back.”
Newcastle’s’s final home game of the season against Sheffield United was watched by a crowd of 20,000 supporters, though fans weren’t able to travel to London for the season-ending fixture against Fulham at Craven Cottage.
The club is now processing season-ticket renewals on the basis of capacity crowds, and many supporters are now looking forward to attending a game for the first time since February 29 last year.
St James’s Park, which had been divided into red, amber and green zones, is no longer ringed by a fence, but clubs must keep their guard up over the coming weeks and months as the country attempts to return to some kind of sporting normality.