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Watching sport as part of the new normal



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In the past couple of weeks larger crowds have started to return to major sporting arenas. The 2nd Test between England and New Zealand, a trial event, had a vociferous 18,000 people at Edgbaston while the Euros have seen varying amounts of supporters depending on each country’s restrictions, writes STEPHEN WALLIS.

In the UK, test events apart, it is normally restricted to a maximum of 25% and I dare say those at Wembley on Friday night made plenty of noise, though not all of it positive. That’s sports fans for you.

No one can doubt that crowds add to the atmosphere, so I wanted to find out what it was like watching sport in the current Covid environment and I booked in for trips to the homes of racing and cricket at Newmarket and Lord’s respectively.

Frankie Dettori at Newmarket (48429466)
Frankie Dettori at Newmarket (48429466)

We have all got so used to watching sport on the TV with or without fake noise. I prefer the fake noise for football but attending a live event, what could I expect?

Tickets were booked online, one of the post Covid norms of today, and I set off with anticipation of seeing thoroughbreds galloping at the Rowley Mile and hearing the sound of bat on ball.

There were more things to consider, the obligatory mask, the bar-coded ticket on phone or paper and at Newmarket photo ID was required. The days of just turning up 10 or 15 minutes before the start are gone forever. Entry, socially distanced of course, was smooth at both.

Aside from members’ areas, I was free to go where I liked at the races, whilst at Lord’s I was restricted to a zone. There were only three zones but the usual stroll around the ground so loved by cricket fans was out.

At the Rowley Mile I was able to meet up with friends in the paddock area. One of the delights of watching sport is the chance to meet up with fellow fans to exchange stories and, in the case of racing, exchange hunches and tips we have had from a friend, who knows someone who works at a racing yard! Plus, having lived our Howard Hughes-like lives for so long we had a lot to catch up on.

On to the catering. I was advised at Newmarket that the wait for an alcoholic drink after getting a table was an hour so I gave that a miss! A coffee and a light snack were thankfully almost immediate though I lost half of my cappuccino when I was bulldozed by a fellow racegoer.

Drinking at Lord’s was much easier. You were allowed to queue in line, quite a novel idea which used to be popular.

On the racecourse, Frankie Dettori, the world’s most famous jockey, was the star attraction and he obliged punters with a double.

Meanwhile, at Lord’s, I selected the only day in early June when it rained and was denied any action. I did make the token visit to my seat in the new Compton stand just to check what my view would have been like. Memories of my visit to the August 2019 Ashes Test seemed an age ago.

Personally, I found the racing experience soulless. Walking through the main bar after each race had a funereal feel. The bars were closed, there was no buzz as spectators carefully made their way back to the paddock. The reaction to a winner was muted, Frankie’s wins produced the biggest noise, but it all felt flat.

Catching up with friends was a bonus and I suppose anything is better than watching sport on TV with no noise. Sports people live in their own bubble of concentration, though I am sure like us spectators the return of crowds will inspire them to raise their performance levels.

Hopefully, as we emerge further out of our various stages, larger attendances will return to sporting arenas. When we will see full houses is another matter.

Whatever happens, watching top level sport will be different. Don’t forget to give yourself more time, download the app, take ID, remember the mask and be patient.

The experience will get better unless it rains all day at the cricket!



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