March 13, 2020, Gold Cup day, 68,500 racegoers trackside at the Cheltenham festival in what became the UK’s last major sporting event with spectators before the COVID-19 pandemic brought the world to a complete stop.
Now, a year on, the festival is taking place behind closed doors as the nation continues its fight against the virus and the closest fans have come to returning to sporting venues came late last year when Cheltenham Town football club welcomed a reduced number of fans to their home games against Exeter, Portsmouth and Bolton.
Elsewhere in the region, things have been even bleaker for Gloucester City who returned to Meadow Park for the first time since the 2007 floods, making it the homecoming that never was.
Fans returned for only a single fixture this season and the National League North was declared null and void after the country entered its third national lockdown earlier this year, meaning the Tigers’ incredible season that saw them rise to the top of the table is rendered meaningless and promotion is off the cards.
But, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel…
With the vaccination programme in Britain on track, officials are preparing to welcome spectators back to sporting events in the summer, with 20,000 the proposed number to watch the FA Cup final on May 15.
Premier League teams are also set to welcome a reduced number of fans back to their grounds for the final two matchdays of the season, although EFL clubs won’t be as lucky.
For Cheltenham Town and Forest Green, the remainder of the League Two season is set to be played behind closed doors with the play-off finals scheduled for May 29-31 the only possible fixtures that could see fans return.
The Robins currently sit top of League Two with their local rivals in third, meaning both Gloucestershire clubs, should they just miss out on automatic promotion, could still play in front of their supporters again this season.
Gloucester City will have to wait until the start of next season before they can play in front of a home crowd at Meadow Park.
In rugby, fans returned for a brief spell in December when the tier system allowed for a reduced number of spectators, but, like Premier League clubs, Gloucester Rugby will be hopeful of welcoming their supporters back to Kingsholm for the final two home games of their season in late May/Early June.
Next season, though, is lining up to be far brighter and despite elite sport continuing throughout much of the pandemic, it hasn’t been the same with empty stadiums, tracks and arenas.