Connor Southwell: So close but so far... Now we must save the clubs in crisis

PUBLISHED: 09:00 24 September 2020

Norwich City were very proud of how the pilot event on Saturday went. 
Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

Norwich City were very proud of how the pilot event on Saturday went. Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

Paul Chesterton

After being seemingly so close to the partial return of supporters inside Carrow Road, to have snatched away seems like another devastation in six months of ordeal and difficulty.

Football has always been something to unite and provide relief regardless of the events in the world. It has been used to show defiance against terrorists, connected people regardless of their political perspective and allowed people to connect over their love for their team.

But coronavirus is going to be with us for at least another six months, and the dawning reality that Carrow Road’s seats will remain empty for another prolonged period of time is a shame.

Of course, other factors – such as livelihoods, the economy and health – take priority, but sport does offer so much to our society, both in terms of their impact in the community and their role in creating jobs.

Inside the walls of Carrow Road, plenty of staff behind the scenes at Norwich City have been working tirelessly to ensure the return of supporters was amongst the safest things to partake in our society.

Seeing supporters in stadiums more regularly is seemingly a long way away. 
Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images LtdSeeing supporters in stadiums more regularly is seemingly a long way away. Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

One can only imagine where we could have been in our fight against the pandemic if the government had worked as efficiently to construct an effective test and trace system in the last seven months as the City staff did to host a pilot event in 48 hours, then the current outlook may not be as bleak.

It was only on Saturday that the Canaries hosted a pilot of 1,000 supporters inside Carrow Road. One that seemed successful and with the vast majority of supporters feeling safe.

City decided that the long-term gain of running this pilot was worth the financial loss they’d make from doing it, luckily, City won’t be a club struggling to survive as we emerge through this crisis, but plenty will.

King’s Lynn Town – a club should be celebrating a historic achievement and who defied all the odds to win promotion to the fifth tier of the footballing pyramid are still waiting to take the pitch due to being classified as an elite team – meaning they fall into the bracket of not being permitted to allow supporters to enter the stadium.

Bury FC supporters lost their football club last year. Picture: Peter Byrne/PA ImagesBury FC supporters lost their football club last year. Picture: Peter Byrne/PA Images

In a society where grouse shooting is acceptable and attending a football match in a socially distanced, Covid secure way isn’t – then you can understand why many feel aggrieved.

After months of determination, of sacrifice and of following football like a Netflix television series – supporters just want to watch their team in the flesh.

It begs the question, what exactly was being piloted on Saturday?

Even prior to the test events being announced, discourse on news channels surrounded the introduction of a fresh set of regulations.

Macclesfield Town became the latest club to fall on hard times. Picture: Clint Hughes/PA ImagesMacclesfield Town became the latest club to fall on hard times. Picture: Clint Hughes/PA Images

Saturday finally felt like a step forward – yellow shirts walking to the stadium, the buzz around the stadium prior to kick-off returned and On the Ball, City was a roar of pent up excitement.

The result was meaningless. It was about witnessing their team again. An indefinite pause throws up more questions and presents more chaos for an administration that seems to govern on chaos.

The wider implications for football are stark. Football clubs will die.

The sport will look radically different when we emerge from this crisis.

King's Lynn Town are waiting to learn their fate. Picture: Ian BurtKing's Lynn Town are waiting to learn their fate. Picture: Ian Burt

It’s not just on the pitch where club’s may their presence felt, it’s in the community through their outreach schemes and the hope they provide to children and young adults who have their way or have been born into a system that doesn’t want them to thrive.

A package desperately needs to be created to preserve the long-term future of clubs – whether that comes from the government or the Premier League.

Even the sport’s top clubs reported a £700million loss last season. Bristol Rovers state that they are operating at a 50pc loss compared to last year.

City’s £12m deficit created by the pandemic will grow. Luckily, the club will have parachute payments and possess a number of assets to help them navigate through the darkness.

Daniel Farke praised the influence of those Norwich City supporters inside Carrow Road on Saturday. 
Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images LtdDaniel Farke praised the influence of those Norwich City supporters inside Carrow Road on Saturday. Picture: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

Others, like Macclesfield, Southend and numerous others could see their clubs become extinct. After Bury, that isn’t something that should happen again.

Football isn’t the most important thing – but it is a vital part of our economy, and our lives.

It’s about so much more than three points on the pitch. It’s about family, togetherness and hope.

We must do more to help save football clubs or risk losing significant parts of the game we all adore.

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