Medical checks and bag searches will probably become the normality as fans start to gradually be allowed back into football stadiums – but I have to admit it was missing the pre-match pint ritual which was the biggest change on my return to the Emirates Stadium.
I have been watching Arsenal for over 50 years and have never gone so long without attending a match, so to return as one of the lucky 2,000 spectators for the Europa League tie with Rapid Vienna on Thursday was a great experience.
The game may have had very little riding on it but for the fans in attendance it was just about being back where we belong.
Having to forego my usual tipple – or two – in a pub on Holloway Road, I got to the ground a good hour before kick-off.
There was no difficulty at all getting into the stadium, I went across the Ken Friar Bridge and there was a tent where I had a quick medical check as well as a security check.
It was a simple process, I think because there were only 2,000 people there and it was spread around half the ground, the turnstiles were open in each area.
By the time I got to my turnstile there was no-one in front of me, another experience you do not normally enjoy on your average matchday.
This may have been anything but an average matchday but it all went very smoothly. The club deserve praise for doing a wonderful job with the organisation of it all and the information they sent to fans like myself in advance to prepare us – it all worked perfectly.
There were only 2,000 fans there, everyone was evenly spread out with every other row empty and then two spaces between each seat but despite that, the atmosphere was excellent.
All the fans were singing together throughout the game and trying to encourage the players and that really did work, you felt at the time that it had a tangible impact on the team.
I was extremely pleased with the interaction with the players, who only added to the sense of occasion by involving us.
They came across straight after they had done the Europa League line-up and applauded the areas of the stadium where we had been assigned.
It was the same whenever we scored, we were all a part of it again after months of watching from a distance and being detached from the sport we love and the club we adore.
At the end, after they had shook hands with the opponents, the players all came back over and clapped at us again – Mikel Arteta came across as well, which I thought was a nice touch.
It is definitely something to live long in the memory, I’ve always enjoyed European football more than anything.
It was an absolutely fantastic evening, I really enjoyed it and just hope I’m lucky enough to get a ticket now for Burnley!
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