Fans Return To Stadiums Put On Hold
Football’s hopes of seeing fans return to stadiums in October have been dashed after the UK government put on hold its decision to allow clubs to host limited numbers at games.
With the worrying rise in cases of covid-19 across the country, the UK government has moved to impose tighter restrictions on gatherings. At the weekend, ten EFL clubs hosted pilot matches which saw them allow up to 1000 fans into games. However, as cases continue to rise, further trails have now been put on hold.
Clubs in the Premier League and EFL Championship completed last season behind closed doors as part of ‘Project Restart’ and have begun the new season, along with Leagues One and Two and clubs in Scotland, behind closed doors. However, for many clubs, revenues from gate receipts are their main source of income and the worry is that many will follow Wigan Athletic and Macclesfield Town who have both succumbed to financial pressures as a result of the pandemic in recent weeks.
Speaking of the government’s decision, Tranmere Rovers chairman Mark Palios told the BBC that he was not surprised by the announcement but warned of the devastating impact it will have on clubs and communities across the country.
“It’s not entirely a surprise,” he said, “but it is going to be a devastating blow for an industry that’s already been really struggling with the covid pandemic.
“There were a lot of things that made the football industry unique and a lot of clubs were already having financial difficulties before this pandemic started and this may sadly tip some of them over the edge.
“We are lucky that we are better off than most, we’d been planning some capital projects and gathering money together to do those. The consequence of the pandemic is that we will have to spend that money on staying afloat rather than the capital projects we wanted to do, but there are other clubs who were living hand to mouth before this started and I fear this may be the nail in the coffin for some of them.
“If it (rescue fund) isn’t forthcoming you’ll see a devastating impact in terms of loss of clubs and the job losses that that means. It’s not just job losses within the clubs themselves it’s all the other businesses in the local area that are supported by them and survive because of them, so I think the impact could be quite devastating. We’ve already seen Macclesfield disappear in the last week and I fear there’s more to follow if the rescue package isn’t forthcoming.”
The news is a blow to fans who were hoping to return to the live stadium environment. Kevin Miles, chief executive of the Football Supporters’ Association, said in a statement: “The FSA has written to the government to stress how important it is that we start to allow fans back into games.
“Feedback from our members at test events has confirmed high levels of compliance with all the health and safety measures put in place, and that they felt safer at games than they have done in many other social situations.
“Having fans at games is of course not only important to the lives of supporters, it is also crucial to the survival of so many clubs who play a crucial role within their communities.
“A combination of revenue at the ground and government support is urgently needed to keep clubs going. The government has to listen to fans and football clubs on this one.”
Premier League CEO, Richard Masters warned that clubs in England’s top league faced losing up to £700m if they continue to play behind closed doors this season.
Speaking ahead of the new season, he told the BBC: “We have to get back to fans inside stadia as quickly as possible – that’s the big thing that’s missing, economic or otherwise – we need fans back inside stadiums for all sorts of reasons and it’s the number one priority.”
Image: PA Images – Middlesbrough fans in the stands where up to 1000 spectators are expected to attend the Sky Bet Championship match at the Riverside Stadium.