Connor Southwell: Why it’s time for government to do the right thing and let the fans in
PUBLISHED: 17:30 06 October 2020 | UPDATED: 17:57 06 October 2020
Once again, football supporters and clubs find themselves marginalised and staring extinction in the face.
Despite numerous pilots, one of which held at Norwich City, the decision to postpone the return of supporters in a safe, socially distant manner has been made to devastating effect for plenty of clubs.
Whilst the government call upon the Premier League to offer a multi-million pound bailout, there is a much simpler solution that will safeguard clubs for the long-term; letting the fans return.
When grouse shooting is deemed acceptable in groups of 30, when congregation in pubs with six people is legal and the prime minister urges people to attend cinemas - why can’t football clubs, who boast an open-air stadium, open their turnstiles and welcome supporters back in a socially distant manner?
The Canaries are a prime example of how socially distant spectators can prove successful. After a lengthy consultation process with safety advisory groups, supporter and the EFL, they welcomed 1,000 supporters into Carrow Road with 48 hours prior knowledge.
Club officials were proud with their efforts and believed the pilot was a great success.
The FA, Premier League, EFL and Women’s Super League have also penned an open letter calling upon the government to allow supporters back in stadiums, with individual clubs urging supporters to get behind a petition on the UK government web site.
Flick on the gogglebox and you’ll witness German football carrying out an efficient, effective and safe way to hold supporters in stadiums. Borussia Dortmund broke the record for a post-coronavirus crowd with 11,500 fans returning to their stadium last weekend.
Without supporters, the environment is rancid. It feels artificial and the product is significantly weakened. EFL and National League clubs are going so close to the wall - some even couldn’t afford to hold pilots in fear of losing money.
For many, it is five minutes to midnight. There is no clear, long-term resolution in sight. The government may have provided a package for the National League - but that won’t be enough to preserve the longevity of the game.
Meanwhile, the Royal Albert Hall is preparing to welcome 3,000 spectators into their venue for a performance of the Nutcracker - in an enclosed, indoors environment, whilst football venues remain vacant.
The O2 Arena has also announced its intention to host 4,700 socially distanced spectators for its events in December. All whilst football clubs gasp for air in the hope of some financial resuscitation.
Once again - it is one rule for everyone else and another for football.
At the weekend, Chesterfield allowed supporters to enter their hospitality lounges to watch their game with Hartlepool United on the screens - but were forced to close the curtains so supporters couldn’t see the action on the pitch.
In Oliver Dowden, football has a minister who has openly admitted he isn’t a supporter. No matter how hard he tries, he will never be able to fully understand the importance and the necessity of stadiums re-opening. They need someone fighting their corner.
Maddie MacKenzie, a member of Along Come Norwich, a Norwich City supporters group that have worked tirelessly to enhance the atmosphere at Carrow Road on a matchday - believes the club’s pilot against Preston proves that fans can return safely to grounds.
“Having been part of the consultation process we know how hard the club has worked to allow fans to return to the stadium in a safe and secure way so it’s massively frustrating for both us and them that all this hard work has been put on hold.
“As fans it’s difficult to see venues such as cinemas and the Royal Albert Hall being allowed to open their doors while Carrow Road remains empty.
“Norfolk in particular is a county that lives and breathes football, from the grassroots level up - it’s a massive part of what defines us as a community.
“To see Kings Lynn finally achieve the goal of playing National League football, only to be told they must do so without the support of the fans they have relied on over many difficult years, is difficult to accept,” she said.
“As long as supporters follow the guidelines clubs set out for them we see no reason why they shouldn’t be allowed to return to the grounds: it’ll give a much needed boost to fans and players, given that both are beginning to feel the effects of such a long period of separation.”
Football clubs are community assets. They bring people together in a way that has become unique in a world dominated by touch screens and social media profiles. Socially - some people rely on them to feel connected and less isolated.
King’s Lynn Town kicked off their campaign in the National League last weekend - a game that would have been taken in by 4,000 supporters in normal times. Yet, the attendance read zero.
In areas where infection rates aren’t as concerning and local lockdowns aren’t in place - then supporters should be permitted to watch their team providing the clubs can ensure a Covid secure setting and adequate social distancing.
Dowden admitted that the pilot events hadn’t led to any cases - in open air settings, a 27,000 seater stadium will be easier to apply the social distancing measures than a pub or the cinema.
It’s time to #LetFansIn safely and get football moving again.