Fans’ return to games for start of new season is discussed as Stoke City wait



The Football Association and government have offered hope that limited crowds could be allowed back in football stadiums for the start of next season.

Stoke City resume their 2019/20 Championship season on Saturday when they are away to Reading in a game that will be played behind closed doors.

But while the Premier League and Championship have voted to finish this season on the pitch, clubs are also waiting to see when fans might be allowed back for games.

That will depend on government advice about when supporters can be admitted safely while observing social distancing.

The issue was addressed by the government’s culture secretary Oliver Dowden yesterday when he said: “I would really hope that by the return of the new season we might be in a position whereby some fans could start to return to stadiums. I know that would be another important part of restoring the financial position of clubs.”

Now the FA’s chief executive Mark Bullingham says those options are being explored.

In comments reported by the Guardian’s David Conn, he said: “When we look ahead to September, we are hoping we are in a very different situation than we are now as a country, and we hope at some point we can start having crowds back.

“We’re looking at loads of options; we’re even getting people to map out what traffic flows [of spectators] look like in stadia, explore what it could look like with one-metre, two-metre social distancing and so on.”

While the Premier League and Championship are supported by television deals, Port Vale owner Carol Shanahan believes it would be very difficult for League Two clubs to start next season behind closed doors because they rely heavily in gate money.

But she has also made clear that no clubs want to bring back supporters unless they believe they can do so safely.

Port Vale chief executive Colin Garlick discussed the situation further in an interview this week.

He said: “We don’t want to be left behind. We know there is a focus on the Premier League and the Championship because they are still playing but we made noises along with other League Two clubs to make sure our voice is being heard.

“We are also different. Premier League grounds are close to capacity every week but we are only operating at around 20 or 25 per cent largely in Leagues One and Two.

“So, there is opportunity, if done correctly, for social distancing.

“There is a lot of work to be done on that. But equally we would like to be back playing football as soon as we can.”

He revealed one of the suggestions made in discussions between League Two clubs is to have no away fans, at least at the start of the season, to give clubs more capacity for home supporters to social distance.

In the meantime, fans are being urged to stay away from grounds as the Premier League and Championship resumes this week behind closed doors. 

Oliver Dowden added: “We do need fans to play their part too. So please, look after your fellow fans and your communities by watching from home.”





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