The plan was for fans to return to football on October 1, which would have paved the way for the National League campaign to kick off on October 3 as planned.
However, the government’s decision to scrap the pilot schemes that would have seen a large number of spectators admitted to games now means that the start of non-league football is impacted….and that could have disastrous consequences further down the line.
Teams in the National League and its northern and southern divisions rely heavily on gate receipts in order to keep them financially viable, and without fans coming through the turnstiles it may prove to be impossible for them to return. There is a board meeting scheduled for Thursday, at which the decision whether or not to return will be made.
Brian Barwick, the chairman of the National League, has said that the non-league game will suffer ‘severe economic hardship’ if hosting matches without fans, while Chesterfield chairman John Croot has said that ‘…speaking to other clubs, there are some out there who are weeks away from real issues.’
Macclesfield Town have already been declared bankrupt since the coronavirus pandemic began, and the fear is that more proud clubs will go by the wayside if they are forced to play behind closed doors. They voted against resuming the season in the summer when the top two tiers of English football made their return.
Fans Back at Live Sport Could be ‘Six Months Away’
It was a hammer blow when first Michael Gove and then Boris Johnson both confirmed that plans to roll out the return of spectators to live sport have been suspended following the latest round of ‘lockdown’ measures.
That brought to an end scheduled trials for games hosted by Dagenham & Redbridge, Dartford, Notts County and Yeovil Town, where 1,000 spectators were originally allowed in the stands.
The government has spoken of a support package for lower league football clubs, and that could prove vital with the suggestion being that it could be as much as six months before fans can return to the terraces.
“We have to acknowledge the spread of the virus is now affecting our ability to reopen large sporting events,” Boris Johnson told the Commons on Tuesday. “I recognise the implications for our sports clubs, which are the life and soul of our communities.
“The chancellor and the culture secretary are working urgently on what we can do now to support them.”
Most alarmingly, the Prime Minister has said that his new raft of rules – which includes licensed premises closing at 10pm and more people encouraged to work from home – could last ‘as much as six months’ if the current stark increase in Covid-19 cases isn’t halted.
Speaking earlier on the BBC’s Breakfast programme, Michael Gove confirmed that there will be no fans anywhere in England for the foreseeable future.
“What we must do is look at sporting events now with caution but we also recognise that sport is a vital part of this nation and we’re looking at everything we can do to support our athletes, our great clubs, through what will be a challenging time,” he said.