EXETER City manager Matt Taylor has welcomed the return of fans to stadiums, but believes it won’t be until next season that things will really feel like they are back to normal.

After Devon was confirmed as being in Tier Two by the Government on Thursday, it means that up to 2,000 supporters will be allowed back inside St James Park from December 2, when the nation comes out of lockdown and the new restrictions come into force.

The Grecians plan to have a test event and allow 1,000 fans into their EFL Trophy clash with Northampton Town on Tuesday, December 8. But they will not be opening the turnstiles and allow supporters in for the FA Youth Cup clash with AFC Bournemouth on Wednesday, December 2.

Exeter City vs Colchester United

“It’s great news,” Taylor said. “It is a shame we are in Tier 2 to be honest with you, but needs must and 2,000 fans is certainly better than what we have had recently. Hopefully it is a sign that we are moving in the right direction.

Matt Taylor Manager of Exeter City during the Sky Bet League 2 Match between Exeter City and Colchester United at St James Park, Exeter on 24 Nov. Photo: Tom Sandberg/PPAUK

“We have to provide a safe environment for those 2,000 people which is easier said than done and I am thankful I am not involved in those policies and regulations because they will go on and on and on and I am sure we still won’t get it right from the offset.

“In terms of the numbers for the first home game when fans are allowed back in, I am not sure what we will do as a club but hopefully we will keep building towards the maximum capacity that we are allowed.”

City’s first home league game post-lockdown is not until December 12, when they host Tranmere Rovers, but they are likely to play in front of a crowd for the first time when they head to Cheltenham Town on December 5.

One thing that has been notable in empty stadiums is just how vocal Taylor is from the touchlines, constantly shouting encouragement and issuing instructions from his technical area. Sometimes the language is a little coarse, but it does offer a fascinating insight into the management skills of the City boss.

“I have to watch my Ps and Qs! I get told off by my parents and my Nan!” Taylor joked. “You have to be careful with what you say.

Exeter City fans squeeze a view of the match through the railings during the Sky Bet League 2 Match between Exeter City and Colchester United at St James Park, Exeter on 24 Nov. Photo: Phil Mingo/PPAUK
Exeter City fans squeeze a view of the match through the railings during the Sky Bet League 2 Match between Exeter City and Colchester United at St James Park, Exeter on 24 Nov. Photo: Phil Mingo/PPAUK

“When it’s so quiet, if any feedback is negative or any criticism is out in the open, certainly towards the players, it can have a really adverse effect on them, depending on how they take that criticism.

“We have tried to be as positive as we can and tried to encourage, tried to identify areas where we can improve the game whilst the game is going on.

“It is not great watching games back where you can hear your own voice, I must say, so I watch them on mute when we watch them back!

“We try not to give the officials too much abuse, but it is all part and parcel of the game and you do get carried away at times.

“The players seem more responsive in terms of getting those messages on and if you are playing in front of 50,000 people, it is hard to hear your team-mates, let alone staff on the touchline, so maybe we are fortunate at the moment. But we would sacrifice that to have the fans back and hopefully, when they are back, they are in good voice, sing and want to back the team.”

Speaking in just how different matches are without fans, the City boss added: “It’s totally different. Games have a feel of a pre-season fixture, not in terms of intensity, but the environment. There is no real atmosphere generated from the stands or the terraces.

Exeter City fans during the Sky Bet League 2 match between Exeter City and Cambridge United at St James Park, Exeter on January 11. – PHOTO: Tom Sandberg/PPAUK

“I am still not sure we will get that atmosphere and that intensity around the stadium back until possibly next season when capacity is back to its full amount because, even though there will be 2,000 people allowed in the stadium, they might be nervous! They might be sat, they might be separated – we won’t get the sold school atmospheres back for a little while longer, I don’t think.

“It will still be strange for the remainder of this season but maybe it has been a good grounding for some of our younger players with no extra pressure on them in terms of having to impress the fans, or the demands of the fans.”

The fans will be even more keen to see Taylor’s youthful side in action as the players are to play in front of them. At present, Exeter average 2.05 goals-per-game and their 6-1 thumping of Colchester United on Tuesday was the first time they had scored six goals in a game since November 1993.

“We are looking forward to playing in front of our fans again, there is no denying that and they must be absolutely desperate to come and watch us play,” Taylor said.

“I got so many messages from mates in and around Exeter saying how gutted they were not to be there on Tuesday night. But I am sure they are getting excited about this young team and what this young team is doing.”

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