‘It was emotional, we’ve missed them’
Luton CEO Gary Sweet has told talkSPORT it was ‘emotional’ to welcome fans back to Kenilworth Road on Wednesday, but insists supporters should have returned at the start of the season.
The Hatters hosted one of six EFL games that welcomed their fans back on Wednesday night for the first time since March.
And the returning supporters appeared to make all the difference, as Luton ended a run of four games without a win by beating Championship leaders Norwich City 3-1.
Just 1,000 fans were allowed back at Kenilworth Road, with both Luton and Wycombe being placed under extra limitations, while Cambridge, Carlisle, Charlton and Shrewsbury were all permitted to fill 2,000 seats.
But after the success of their first game back on Wednesday, Sweet is hoping to increase attendance numbers for their next home game against Preston North End on December 12.
The Hatters chief joined talkSPORT host Jim White on Thursday to reflect on a memorable night for fans after nine months away.
And he believes the success of the night is also proof that they should have returned to stadiums much earlier.
“It was a really emotional occasion, it was absolutely fantastic,” Sweet told talkSPORT.
“We didn’t quite expect it, we came out a few minutes early just to catch the atmosphere and there were just so many familiar faces, we pretty much knew everyone that was in there and it did bring a tear to a few eyes.
“We learned we can function and operate with 1,000 people quite safely, we had a long debrief last night well into the early hours and we’ve got another one this morning where we’ll discuss last night’s events with a view to bringing 2,000 in for the Preston game a week on Saturday.
“It wasn’t perfect, here were a few minor things we picked up and we fed back to us but, we call them our ambassadors, the 1,000 that came, they behaved impeccably well and gave us a little bit of feedback as well.
“In the main, they felt it was quite a normal experience.
“I felt the team performed a little bit better last night, I actually think both teams did, because there were people in the ground.”
That’s in contrast to Charlton’s game against MK Dons, which saw manager Lee Bowyer complain about fan negativity in their first game back in nine months.
Some Addicks fans were so annoyed by their team’s performance in the 1-0 home defeat, that they left the Valley EARLY!
Sweet added: “I think it’s also proof that actually this should have been happening at the beginning of the season, we should have been bringing supporters back much earlier than we have.
“Everybody felt safe, everybody was happy to be in their seats, everybody enjoyed the game, everybody made a little bit of noise and the atmosphere was back, it was just a brilliant show.
“For me, I would certainly like to expand it to beyond 2,000, we’ve done some test limits up to about 4,000 and still retaining social distancing and keeping bubbles together.
“But little by little, we have to work with other people and other authorities. We might be a little bit confident with what we can do but we have to prove it to other people and we’re willing to work with everyone on that.
“For me, we should be able to rapidly accelerate growth in stadiums now, and not just in Luton but everywhere.”