Comment: Fan return is far from perfect, but it is a welcome step for Hartlepool United
In two weeks time, the Victoria Park turnstiles will rotate once again, if only slightly.
It’s been a while, almost 15 months since fans were last able to attend a Hartlepool United match in person.
That 1-0 defeat against Ebbsfleet United was a wretched day and one many fans have been waiting over a year to get out of their system.
And on May 29 against Weymouth, a select few of them will as Pools confirmed that roughly 1,700 supporters will make their long awaited return to The Vic.
As enjoyable as Pools’ season has been on the pitch, in the stands it has been sterile with supporters having to witness what would usually be unforgettable moments through Twitter feeds and live streams.
A 7-2 away win just doesn’t feel the same when you’re experiencing it through ‘GOAL’ gifs.
In two weeks time that will change, for a select few at least.
With around 1,500 season ticket holders already, roughly 200 tickets will go on priority sale to season ticket holders for the 2021-22 campaign. But with almost 2,000 season tickets sold for next season so far, the majority are going to miss out.
It’s as fair a system as Pools could have conjured up, rewarding supporter’s loyalty, albeit with a significant price hike for the game.
The respective £6 and £8 ticket price rise to £25 for adults and £20 for concessions has been justified by Pools from a business point of view and the majority of fans seem to have accepted it.
The club will be unable to stream any potential play-off matches due to BT Sport’s broadcasting rights but they have confirmed a live stream will be in place for the Weymouth match on May 29.
Hartlepool are also making a ‘significant financial contribution’ towards Weymouth’s travel costs for the game. This was a crucial factor in getting Weymouth to agree to the fixture rearrangement that would allow fans to return for the first time this season.
Expecting ‘normal’ prices in these circumstances was unrealistic and the fact of the matter is Pools could have quite easily charged £50 and fans would have still bought tickets, such is their eagerness to return.
But why only 1,700?
The initial impression was that just under 4,000 supporters would be allowed to attend based on government guidelines of 50-per-cent capacity for football stadiums.
That would have still been higher than any home crowd that was registered at Victoria Park during the 2019-20 campaign.
But the National League confirmed that attendance allocations would be reviewed on a ground by ground basis based on safety protocols and coronavirus measures.
An attendance of 1,700 works out at slightly under 50-per-cent of Victoria Park’s available seated capacity given that the North West Corner is currently out of use as per the club’s stadium safety certificate.
The return of fans was never going to be perfect or seamless. It’s frustrating that from Monday we can all hug, meet inside and go on holiday abroad but when it comes to watching Pools outside in a large stadium harsh measures remain in place.
At Victoria Park it will be ordered, it will be organised, it will be everything a usual matchday shouldn’t. But fans will be back, and that’s what matters.