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The Payne Game: There may not be a club to come back to for some supporters

Abbey days:
Fans did at
least get to
see some
football in the
flesh this week

A NEW season brings an early chance to get a cheap shot in at the EFL Trophy. Fans wait six months to be allowed into a football match and 1,000 tickets are available.

And yet such is contempt for the competition best summed up by the Twitter account ‘Against League 3’ that still just 862 went through Cambridge’s turnstiles for Tuesday’s 2-0 win over Fulham Under-21s.

But forget the cheap digs. From a safety point of view the pilot was a success as fans wore face masks, had their temperature checked and followed a one-way route around the stadium, all sacrifices well worth making for a bit of live football.

The Abbey Stadium had been due to welcome 2,000 fans with the visit of Carlisle tomorrow for a second pilot event but sadly that will now join the rest of the weekend programme in being played behind closed doors due to changes in government guidance following a spike in Covid-19 cases.

If the return of fans is ‘absolutely critical’ in the top flight, according to Premier League chief Richard Masters, its importance lower down must be somewhere off the scale.

Since the start of this month alone Championship clubs have sold Ollie Watkins, Callum Wilson, Abdoulaye Doucoure, Matty Cash, Jamal Lewis, Max Lowe and Jayden Bogle to the top flight for north of £100million.

The loss of some of the EFL’s best players diminishes the product while the clubs left behind are trying to keep hold of as much season-ticket money as possible — loyal fans having to take part in ballots for tickets, accept they may only be able to attend half the games, settle for a streaming pass for the home games they can’t make, pay extra to watch many away games.

Clubs are faced with a balancing act between appeasing fans getting a fraction of the product and the need to keep hold of as much cash as possible.

And in the week clubs have been trying to tell fans there is light at the end of the tunnel, the situation has got worse with the government giving notice the return of fans is reverting to the slow lane. Any hopes the bigger second-tier clubs may get 7,000 or 8,000 in grounds next month are starting to look as optimistic as the idea Covid could be over by Christmas.

But if fans don’t start getting into grounds soon, many might not have a club to come back to.