LONDON (Reuters) - Carlisle United became the first English club to welcome back fans for a league match on Saturday as they took on Southend United in a League Two clash at their Brunton Park stadium.
Up to 1,000 fans were permitted for the lunchtime kickoff, with Carlisle one of eight clubs to take part in a government pilot scheme to allow fans back into stadiums.
Fans have not been allowed in the English Football League (EFL) or Premier League since the resumption of action in June following a three-month shutdown due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Two Championship (second tier) games were allowing 1,000 fans on Saturday with Norwich City hosting Preston North End and Middlesbrough taking on Bournemouth.
Blackpool, Charlton Athletic, Hull City and Shrewsbury Town took the chance to be part of the pilot scheme in League One, along with Forest Green Rovers in League Two.
However, a recent rise in COVID-19 infection rates across the country, which has prompted regional restrictions on movement, meant the government scaled back its pilot scheme to limit attendances to a maximum of 1,000 fans. It said plans for grounds to be up to a third full from Oct. 1 would be reviewed.
Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said the pilot schemes would help “build evidence” to see how larger groups of fans might be permitted to attend matches.
Carlisle fans attending their match had to adhere to strict rules, including social distancing, hand-washing protocols and using face masks when moving around inside the stadium.
Norwich City, relegated from the Premier League last season, used a ballot system to allocate tickets for their match.
Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Hugh Lawson
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