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Watch: Fans return in stadia as Premier League kicks off on Thursday

MFA president Bjorn Vassallo. Photo: Chris Sant Fournier

Match tickets increase to €10 for adults, €4 for children

Maltese stadiums’ turnstiles will be alive again as from Thursday as Sliema Wanderers and Balzan welcome the first fans back into the stadium for the BOV Premier League.

In a system already implemented successfully during the European competition qualifiers, supporters will be able to watch their team play in restricted numbers which will increase in increments.

MFA president Bjorn Vassallo discusses the return of fans. Video: Chris Sant Fournier

Malta Football Association (MFA) president Bjorn Vassallo said the association is looking forward to the season with optimism.

“We’re looking ahead to the season with optimism because of the return of supporters, even if restricted, who have already returned in European competition games for our clubs and logistics have been a success,” Vassallo told a press conference yesterday.

Speaking to the Times of Malta, Vassallo insisted that it is imperative to complete the new season in its entirety to determine a winner on the pitch.

“We all hope that the league begins and the 27 matchdays are played in their entirety as the beauty of the game is that the best team on the pitch crosses the finish line. The return of supporters is a great satisfaction for us as obviously football is not the same without the fans,” Vassallo explained.

“We’ve seen in the last year and a half how stadiums without fans are not emotional as they normally are.

“Obviously, we’ve explained today how matchday will operate and the restrictions in capacity, together with the medical protocols so that with regards to fans and technical staff, we’ll be prepared to have a sustained league and as a result we can start and finish as planned.”

MFA Director of Football Operations Stephen Azzopardi explained that while each section of every stadium can only allow up to 200 spectators, this will increase to 300 by August 16 and 500 by the end of the month.

However, unlike previous seasons, the price of a ticket will rise to €10 for adults and €4 for Karta Anzjan holders as well as children under the age of 12. They will also not be valid for back-to-back matches as the MFA says it is pushing each game towards having ‘its own identity’.

This rise in price comes after the increased expenses incurred by the MFA for its matches involving, renting out stadia, match officials, and other expenses which in total amount to around €300,000. However, clubs will get profits or losses from the gate-money after the day’s expenses are paid.

Ahead of the first blockbuster matchup between Ħamrun Spartans and Valletta on Friday, the stadium is set to be divided for both sets of fans, as well as a neutral side. Vassallo said both clubs have already applied to sell pre-sale tickets, with the rest of the tickets being available online due to the fact that ticket booths at the stadiums will not be operational.

Unlike last season, where supporters could follow their team’s matches online through live streaming, this will not be available during the 2021-22 season, particularly due to the system’s quality not being up to standard according to president Vassallo.

“Personally, I was not happy with the quality of the system we used last season,” he said.

“Obviously, one has to understand that this was artificial intelligence, so the camera just moves with the ball. We’ve had times where it worked well, particularly at the National Stadium where it had a wide view. But we had difficulties at the Centenary Stadium and Victor Tedesco Stadium which are much smaller.

“I was not happy with them and now that the public is heading back to the stadiums, and the best matches will also be transmitted on television, we think that these videos should be used for analysis.”

Vassallo also announced an updated set of regulations ahead of the new season, which include a lineup that has grown from 18 players to 20. The five-substitutions rule will remain in accordance with the laws of the game. A squad list will be introduced where every club will be allowed a maximum of 25 professional players, a maximum of 12 non-homegrown players registered at one time and a maximum of seven foreign players on the bench – a total of nine in the team’s lineup.

Once again, the association is making use of the Youth Development fund for Under-21 players who play at least 45 minutes. Eligible players in the youth section who’ve played more than 45 minutes with the first team will not be able to play with the youths in the two days after a match.

Finally, he explained that players and staff will have to produce either a vaccine certificate or temporarily a negative PCR test 48 hours before a match until the club is able to confirm that they are vaccinated and can produce their vaccine certificate.

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