Fans still aren’t allowed to attend soccer matches in England due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
That, however, won’t stop NBA Hall of Famer Shaquille O’Neal from sneaking his way into next weeks’ semifinal match between Northampton Town and Cheltenham Town.
Well, kind of.
An O’Neal cardboard cut-out wearing a Cobblers scarf will be in the stands at PTS Academy Stadium for the first leg of the semifinals on June 18, the team announced on Thursday, part of their “Cobbler In The Crowd” promotion to help fill the stadium during the coronavirus pandemic.
⚽️ Hi @NorthantshourUk - this time next week we will be playing in the play offs, and the images of many supporters will be inside the stadium thanks to #CobblerintheCrowd - among them is basketball legend @SHAQ https://t.co/w7pvPLBOj5— Northampton Town (@ntfc) June 11, 2020
O’Neal is actually a big fan of Northampton, and even owns an internet radio station with the club chairman, according to ESPN.
"Shaq, widely regarded as one of the greatest players in basketball history, has thrown his support behind Northampton Town and the Cobbler in the Crowd scheme, and his cut out will be included in the crowd as the Cobblers take on the Robins," Northampton said in a statement.
The move is one that clubs across Europe have made since play was allowed to resume in an effort to make the stands look full on TV.
Northampton and Cheltenham, along with Colchester and Exeter, are the four teams competing in the modified League Two playoffs. They’ll compete in the second legs of the semifinals on June 22 before the championship match on June 29 at Wembley Stadium. Crewe, Plymouth and league champion Swindon were automatically promoted into League One at the conclusion of the regular season.
Though he won’t actually be front and center on Thursday at PTS Academy Stadium, O’Neal’s spirit is sure to be in attendance.
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