The return of crowds to outdoor sporting events is “something to celebrate for fans”, says English Football League chairman Rick Parry. From BBC Sports News
A maximum of 4,000 fans will be allowed at events in the lowest-risk areas when England’s lockdown ends on 2 December, with up to 2,000 in tier two but none in tier three.
Football across England’s top four divisions has mainly been played behind closed doors since returning in June.
“This is a welcome start,” said Parry. “Fans have been frustrated, they’re missing their football, so it’s something to celebrate for fans, not just for the clubs, we have to build upon it because what we’re really looking forward to is getting fans back in rather more substantial numbers.”
Parry added that the financial impact of fans returning could be “very significant” for clubs in Leagues One and Two and even a “lifeline” for sides in the fourth tier.
“But it’s not just the money, it’s a very welcome return to atmosphere,” he told BBC Radio Four’s Today programme.
Parry said there was “a lot of hard work ahead” and the government’s announcement of the new measures on Monday will have taken the clubs “a little bit by surprise” as they “weren’t really expecting anything before Christmas”.
“Some clubs will still have safety officers on furlough,” he said. “There is a lot of work to do quite quickly and it’s really important that we get this right.
“We’ve got to make sure that the clubs and the fans all behave responsibly.”
There are six Championship, eight League One and seven League Two fixtures currently scheduled for Tuesday, 1 December and Parry said the EFL will be “as flexible as we can be” if matches could be moved to 2 December to accommodate fans.
However, he said they still need to wait to find out which clubs will be in which tier on Thursday and to get the “necessary permissions from the safety advisory groups”.
Parry added that the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) have been “incredibly supportive” and said it was “great to see that government does listen” after sports governing bodies had been pushing for the return of fans.
He said the results of “extraordinarily successful” pilot events in various sports earlier this year showed fans could return in a safe manner.
The pilot programme was paused in September amid a rise in coronavirus cases.
The project, which saw the Sports Grounds Safety Authority and UK Sport working with Edinburgh University, found attendees had “high trust” in organisers to maintain their safety through measures like spaced-out seats and increased availability of hand sanitiser.