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Fans flock to sporting venues as coronavirus restrictions ease

Football, greyhound racing, horse racing, rugby league and rugby union were all scheduled to take place in front of spectators on Monday.

Fans flocked back to sporting venues across England on Monday as coronavirus restrictions were eased.

Spectators were in place in the early afternoon for the horse racing meets at Carlisle and Redcar, with further fixtures taking place later in the day at Leicester and Windsor.

Football, rugby league, rugby union and greyhound racing were also among the sports to open their doors to fans on the first day of the Government’s third step in the coronavirus recovery road map.

Racegoers inspect the parade ring at Redcar Racecourse
Racegoers inspect the parade ring at Redcar Racecourse (Mike Egerton/PA)

Larger seated outdoor venues will be able to admit up to 10,000 spectators, while smaller outdoor venues will have capacities capped at 4,000 or 50 per cent, whichever is the lowest.

Fans will have to get used to a new set of rules with face-masks, online health checks and maintaining social distance now part of the experience.

Among the first paying customers through the gates at Carlisle were Craig Hamilton, his partner Louise Williams and their five-month old baby Mikey – who was well dressed for his first visit to the races.

Craig Hamilton, Louise Williams and baby Mikey at Carlisle
Craig Hamilton, Louise Williams and baby Mikey at Carlisle (Ashley Iveson/PA)

“It’s fantastic to be back. It’s nice to get back to some sort of normality and to get dressed up and do something,” Hamilton told the PA news agency.

“This is Louise’s surprise birthday present. I bought the tickets when they first came out and surprised her this morning.

“We were just saying, we don’t think we’ve been racing since August/September 2019, so it’s almost two years and we probably go six or seven times a year usually.”

Racegoers place a bet at Redcar Racecourse
Racegoers place a bet at Redcar Racecourse (Mike Egerton/PA)

Williams added: “This is Mikey’s first day at the races. Hopefully he’s a lucky charm!”

Later on Monday, two Sky Bet Championship play-off matches will be played in front of a live audience on the back of Saturday’s successful FA Cup final test event at Wembley, where 21,000 watched Leicester beat Chelsea.

Barnsley will be backed by around 4,500 supporters for their play-off tie with Swansea, while just over 2,000 will be in attendance when Bournemouth host Brentford in the other semi-final first leg.

Crowds will also be back in rugby union’s Gallagher Premiership, with leaders Bristol expecting a crowd of 3,138 for the visit of West Country neighbours Gloucester and Newcastle playing Northampton in front of 1,750.

Rugby league has a busy programme on Monday night with five Super League matches – Hull can have 5,500, St Helens and Warrington 4,000 each, Castleford’s capacity is 3,600 and Leigh are working to 2,000 – and two Championship games.

Romford Greyhound Stadium also welcomed back fans but no on-course bookmakers were present.

Premier League crowds will return on Tuesday, with the league having pushed back its penultimate round of matches to May 18 and 19.

That decision has allowed every club to play one game in front of supporters before the end of the season on Sunday.

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