Football Authorities Working Towards Fans Return
Saturday, 25th Jul 2020 09:28
The FA and other football authorities have been in talks on how football will start to get back to normal when next season starts in September, read on to find out the timescales involved in getting supporters back into the stadiums.
As has been well publicised the 2020/21 season will start around a month later than it was originally intended, kicking off on the weekend of 12th September.
But this is about the only thing that can be set in tablets of stone, hopefully spectators will be back in the grounds before too long, but it is dependant on Covid 19 and the way the next months progress.
When the season re starts it is highly unlikely that there will be any fans in the grounds, unless there is a miracle cure the first games will be played behind closed doors but the planning is that this will not be the case for very long.
The plan is to get supporters back in during October as mentioned by the Government and the football authorities are keen to do that as soon as possible and are working towards 3rd October as the weekend they can reopen the turnstiles.
That will mean that there will be no more than 3-4 games for each club that will be played behind closed doors.
The Government is planning a series of test events with spectators present , the football authorities are very surprised and disappointed that their sport will not be part of the testing, Cricket, Horse Racing and bizarrely Snooker (I can only assume it is to see how the Queues work) will be used.
If these go well in August and early September then hopefully fans will be allowed back in for the early October fixtures but initially it will be far from a full house allowed.
Reports vary but the general consensus seems to be that each stadium had different logistics but around 40-50% of capacity will be the maximum initially, it is also likely that there will be no away supporters allowed, this makes sense at the Government is not keen on large scale movement of people across the Country due to the risk of spreading the infection.
Many football clubs including Saints have already been proactive in working out how many they will be able to get into the stadiums when crowds return, St Mary's has a slight advantage in that it has a large dedicated family centre, this means that in that section of the ground it could potentially mean that they could get more in as they can sit family units together ie 4 together rather than the situation elsewhere where they are likely to have single fans only with a seat each side empty.
The feeling in St Mary's is that they can achieve 50% capacity due to not only the family centre but also the fact that the Stadium has good open access in all directions unlike some stadia that have narrow residential streets around them, as visitors to Goodison Park, Selhurst Park etc will testify.
I am being told that the thinking at St Mary's is that normally they would expect a 10% drop in season ticket renewals but replaced with new applicants, but given the current situation they feel that they like most clubs will see a drop due to Covid 19 and the uncertainties surrounding it.
This being the case Saints have also been proactive in trying to identify the make up of the supporter base and the likelihood of some season ticket holders in various age brackets actually wanting to attend games until they deem it entirely safe to do so.
They appreciate that some older supporters may have health issues and that although they will renew their season tickets they will prefer to have a refund on individual games initially until they are sure that there will be no spike caused by crowds back in games.
This being the case the feeling seems to be that in Saints case, if they can achieve a 50% capacity, most if not all season ticket holders will be able to get in to the initial fixtures.
From this perspective the FA and all authorities campaigned hard to reduce the social distancing in the seating areas from two metres, ie two empty seats, to one metre ie one empty seat.
There is also a lot speculation surrounding actually going to a game , this will be a big logistical operation for club's, the reality is that for the first games season ticket holders will not be able to use their normal seats, but the intention is that they will still be accommodated in the same area with a similar seat, this will need the supporters to be understanding that these are not normal times, it will be about getting the fans back in and that will mean some give and take from all, at Saints the club seem committed to refunding money quickly to season ticket holders who are uncomfortable with any aspect of re entering the stadium for a game.
I have seen some people posting on social media saying that you will need to be at the ground 3 hours early, take various tests, have to sit in your seat for two hours before the game with no facilities for food & drink etc, this is pure muck raking, at present there are no such plans, the situation is changing fast and can turn at any moment, but at present it is felt that fans can enter the ground in a similar way as they do now, albeit in a lot more social distanced fashion, in the stands it will be a little more complicated in that they will have to space out seats etc and that logistic is still to be worked out.
The situation in regard to Face Masks is yet to be decided, given that the stadium are open air there may not be a need, but this is again dependent on the test events going well and where the virus is in terms of spreading at the time, it could be that individual clubs have differing views and one thing we have learnt of late is that the disease is not blanket over the entire country and population, it affects differing areas in differing ways and that means that perhaps Leicester for instance will have more stringent rules than Southampton or Newcastle.
If it goes well in October then the capacities at all stadia will increase and the hope is that it will be somewhere near capacity during November, perhaps 75% and by the end of the year things will be back to normal, however this is all going to be dependent on the situation continuing to improve.
The away fan situation is a lot more complicated, again the hope is that away supporters can return sooner than later, but there are a lot more issues including how badly the away club's area is affected, distance travelled etc, it is likely that when allowed back in it will be as a % of the allowed capacity, ie 10% as it is now or indeed a set figure ie 1,000, there is no way at present to be able to give a definitive answer, it is one step at a time and firstly home fans have to get back in and when that is achieved safely, away fans can be considered.
So the good thing is that there is light at the end of the tunnel, all football club's need their fans to be both supportive and understanding, supportive by renewing their season tickets etc and putting income into their clubs so that they can survive, but also understanding, these are difficult times and are no fault of the club's themselves, Saints and all other clubs want their fans in, but they have to make sure it is safe to do so.
This will all be about individual choice, many will feel safe in going back in October whilst others will prefer to wait, those that renew their season tickets will have their money for individual games missed refunded, so will not be inconvenienced.
My message to Saints supporters is that I have already seen some supporters use this as a stick to beat the club with, it is far from that, Saints and indeed every club have difficult circumstances, they can't even get non playing staff into their own ground until the final game is completed, they are likely to have to vacate the ground again in September albeit for only a short initial period.
I have seen some seemingly cutting off their noses to spite their faces and stating they would not renew until they know what is happening, this will probably put them out of pocket as they will miss out on a renewal discount, not to mention lose their normal seat.
No season ticket holder will be financially out of pocket should they not get into a game during the initial period, either through a logistic issue ie we can't get everyone in, or from a personal preference.
Covid 19 is a difficult time, it has seen the Country pull together to adhere to the restrictions and get through them, it is no different when supporting your Football Club, it is important to get back to normal in every walk of life if safe to do so.
Photo: Action Images
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