NEGOTIATIONS to allow fans back into football grounds have reached a ‘critical’ stage as the Championship, League One and League Two look to avoid devastating financial losses.
Although the government has put the return of 25 per cent of spectators — originally pencilled in for October 1 — under review after a spike in coronavirus cases, the English Football League has reportedly been given the go-ahead to host pilot events for 1,000 fans as early as this weekend.
Cambridge last week welcomed 862 people to an EFL Trophy tie with Fulham under-21s but then had to scrap plans to welcome 2,500 for a League Two match with Carlisle when a 1,000 limit was placed on test events.
EFL chairman Rick Parry (pictured) is among sports administrators discussing the issue with culture secretary Oliver Dowden and in a letter to the 72 member clubs, the league’s head of policy John Nagle wrote: ‘The next 48 hours are likely to be critical in terms of determining the direction of travel.’
The letter estimates a combined loss of £200million if fans are locked out this season, adding to the £50m from last term, when League One and Two ended early, and the Championship finished behind closed doors.
‘Failure to or to at least provide any credible roadmap back to the return of fans in the near future, could have catastrophic consequences for many football clubs and the communities they represent,’ Nagle added.
Clubs had until yesterday to request to be one of this weekend’s test events, although those where local lockdowns have been imposed were ineligible.
An EFL spokesman said: ‘The league is clear in its view that social distancing can be applied safely in football stadia and that having crowds at matches is an essential part of helping to protect club finances.’
The Premier League has said its clubs will not hold pilot events, saying crowds of just 1,000 would be ‘heavily loss-making’ but is pleading for fans to be allowed to return next month.
National League chairman Brian Barwick has also written to Dowden seeking permission for fans to attend when its season starts on October 3.
‘The government urgently needs to set out a credible pathway for the safe return of supporters, and to ensure our clubs can function,’ he said.