By Callum Keown
The English Premier League finally returned on Wednesday after more than three months with the first of 92 games in just 40 days.
After waiting 100 days for the richest soccer league in the world to return, fans were treated to a 0-0 draw between Aston Villa and Sheffield United in the first game back. However, Sheffield United were denied a clear goal despite the ball crossing the line. Technology company Hawk-Eye later apologized after none of the seven cameras focused on the goal picked it up as players and the goalposts blocked the view.
Manchester City then beat Arsenal 3-0 in the second game of the evening. Arsenal defender David Luiz had a night to forget as his error led to the first goal and then he was sent off in giving away a penalty for City’s second.
The first full round of fixtures will kick off on Friday.
U.K. Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said that the return would represent a boost for “a football-loving nation” and that Wednesday’s games would be broadcast in all but five countries around the world. Dowden added that he hoped some fans may be able to return to stadiums for matches by the beginning of next season.
The new normal will see the matches played in front of empty stadiums with television viewers given the option of fake crowd noise. A minute’s silence will be held before the first matches in memory of those lost to the coronavirus pandemic, while NHS frontline health staff will be honored through a badge on the players’ shirts.
The names on the back of the shirts will also be replaced by “Black Lives Matter” for the first 12 matches, following the death of George Floyd and worldwide protests that have resulted.
All 92 remaining fixtures will be broadcast live in the U.K. by the league’s broadcast partners Sky Sports, BT Sport /zigman2/quotes/209006687/delayed UK:BT.A +2.52% , BBC Sport and Amazon Prime /zigman2/quotes/210331248/composite AMZN +0.49% , as well as by broadcasters around the world insluding Comcast’s /zigman2/quotes/209472081/composite CMCSA +1.75% NBC properties in the U.S.
As part of the extensive preparations to bring football back, players and staff have been tested twice weekly over the past month as clubs returned to training. In total 8,687 people have been tested, with just 16 positive results. The pan-European Champions League competition will also resume in August, UEFA confirmed Wednesday.
The Championship — the English football league one notch below the Premier League — will resume on June 20, while League One and League Two have been curtailed with only a handful of playoff games set to decide promotion.
The economic impact of soccer’s postponement will see a number of clubs plunged into financial trouble, while businesses, including pubs, shops and cafés around U.K. stadiums, have also suffered.
The sports betting industry has taken a hit, and William Hill /zigman2/quotes/201135907/delayed UK:WMH +0.25% said Wednesday that the league’s return would boost revenue. The company said online sports wagers “improved significantly” in the six weeks to June 9 as horse racing and German football returned. Gambling welfare campaigners and the U.K. government’s sports minister, Nigel Huddleston, have warned companies not to take advantage of customers deprived of sport during lockdown and urged people to gamble responsibly. Shares of Ladbrokes owner GVC and Flutter /zigman2/quotes/208882914/delayed UK:FLTR +2.42% edged higher on Wednesday ahead of the restart.
The league’s championship, of course, is all but decided, with Liverpool 25 points clear of second-place Manchester City and expected to end a 30-year wait to win the league.
If Manchester City lose to Arsenal tonight, Liverpool could clinch the league on Sunday against fierce local rival Everton at Goodison Park.