Albion chief executive officer and deputy chairman Paul Barber is looking forward to welcoming fans back to the American Express Community Stadium for Saturday’s Premier League encounter with Watford.
The Amex will witness its highest attendance since the visit of Crystal Palace in February 2020, helped in part by record season-ticket and 1901 Club sales – the highest in Albion's history.
Writing in the matchday programme, Barber said: “It's been 18 very long months since we have been able to welcome so many people to our stadium and, after such a difficult period for everyone, I’m sure that seeing a full and vibrant Amex will act as a much-needed tonic for all of us.
“Sadly, we are only too aware that some of our fans did not make it through the pandemic, while others have seen their lives turned upside down through ill health or loss of income. Our thoughts and best wishes go to all those who have suffered most.
“Like many football clubs up and down the country we have done our best throughout the pandemic to support our community, the NHS and other front-line workers, our own staff and their families, and, of course, wherever possible, our supporters.
“That support for everyone continues with a series of additional pre-entry checks to ensure our stadium is as safe as it can be, bearing in mind the pandemic is ongoing, for our staff, for our visitors, and, very importantly, for you (our fans).
It remains unclear whether the Government will mandate COVID-related checks at Premier League stadia from 1 October 2021 but, if they do, we want to be as ready as we can be. And if they don’t, some extra checks for at least the initial weeks of the new season to help keep people safe seems to be a very small price to pay.”
Fans are advised to arrive at the Amex Stadium earlier than they would have done, pre-pandemic, to help make it a smooth and comfortable visit while also ensuring the safety of supporters and matchday staff.
“Your support for this process is very much appreciated, not least by our staff – to whom our club has a significant duty of care – and without whom we would not be able to open the stadium to full capacity,” added Barber.
“So, as well as playing our part in keeping our wider community as safe as we can, keeping our staff healthy is paramount to all of us who want to watch live football at the Amex this season. Please continue to cooperate with our staff’s instructions and we will make your entry to the stadium as swift as it can be in the circumstances.
“Your patience will, however, also be needed in and around the stadium as we seek to re-recruit our normal levels of matchday staff, many of whom have been absent from the Amex now for 18 months or, in the case of our student workforce, have left the city as their courses have ended in the meantime. Recruitment is particularly challenging when nearby universities remain closed, and the ongoing ‘pingdemic’ continues to unpredictably affect staff numbers across the board in most industries, not least sport, entertainment and leisure.”
Barber is also quick to praise the support of the club’s fans, despite the widespread financial implications for many individuals and businesses brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We have seen a significant, encouraging and very welcome commitment from our fans. With very high renewal rates for general admission season-tickets and also our new five-year 1901 Club membership term (both of which were well in excess of 90%), our fans have demonstrated not only their great support for the club but also their desire and determination to return to watch live football at the Amex after what, for many, has been an 18-month absence from attending matches on a regular basis.
“Thanks to the additional seats in the stadium and high renewal rates – and in spite of the pandemic – we now have more season-ticket holders and 1901 Club members than at any time in the Amex’s and club’s history – an incredible achievement in itself, and even greater when you consider MyAlbion+ club membership numbers remain strong.
“Our season-ticket waiting list also remains healthy with some fans understandably delaying their purchase until their own personal circumstances are better or different leaving us with yet more pent up demand for the future.”