We’ve all seen the images of packed beaches and protests in major towns and cities over the last few months. We’ve all been told to ‘social distance’ amongst other advice to help reduce the spread of Covid-19 throughout this pandemic.
Pubs and restaurants are now open, with the Government even enticing customers to return with a 50% off offer, in order to boost the economy. Gyms, cinemas and places of worship are now open and welcoming back patrons. Note that most of these are indoor ventures.
But scenes as shown above have been banned from taking place. The FA has decreed that spectating at non-league football is forbidden. At first it was the National League System (steps 1-6 of the pyramid) but upon seeing those at ‘Grassroots’ level (step 7 and below) welcome fans to their pre-season matches, the FA have now banned spectating at a further lower level.
Does it make sense? Not if you compare it to the fact that you can happily mix with people in pubs, restaurants, shops and all other manners of life. You can gather in parks without reprise yet stick a rail around a pitch and you’ll be breaching rules should you gather, putting the clubs in jeopardy of punishment.
Other sports remain unaffected; recreational cricket – right up to just below County level is free to allow spectators. I’ve attended many matches since its resumption with no problem whatsoever. I’ve been to Brands Hatch for a race meet which must’ve had the attendance counted in their thousands. So why can’t 100 or so people watch football?
It’s a question many in the game are scratching their heads about. Football and Cricket were initially halted not least to stop the transmission of the virus between players. Cricket had been deemed by the Government that the ball was a ‘vector of transmitting the virus’ before backtracking and allowing the return. There was no suggestion about spectators causing social distancing problems. Likewise in football, the concern was regarding the use of changing rooms, dirty kit, getting to and from a match and the contact on-field. These issues have been ‘resolved’ allowing the resumption of Football – only without fans, who have become a scapegoat instead.
Current lockdown rules dictate that certain businesses can operate at lower capacity. So why can’t football clubs be included? Theatres are able to re-open with a 25% attendance. Pubs are operating with the 1 metre-plus rule at around 70-80%. But a non-league ground can only host matches at 0%. An average maximum capacity of a Step 5 ground is around 1,000-1,500. Why can’t the same 25% rule afforded to indoor entertainment businesses be applied to something hosted outdoors, where we know the risk of transmission of the virus is substantially lower? Football at Step 4 and below rarely breaks the 200 mark with even less, the further down you go. Those figures are lower than even a 25% capacity would allow.
Step 7 sides welcomed spectators last weekend without problems but now they’re included in the ban. However, with many at that level, it’s practically unenforceable. A large percentage of clubs play on recreational fields or at least with some access to the public. How do you prevent them from watching a game? You can also use a clubhouse, much in the same way as a pub. In theory, you can have punters watching a match inside through the windows. I’ve seen clubs posting on social media looking to use this loophole to get around current restrictions. Now tell me, what is safer?
Take this scenario; I could watch a Cricket match played in recreation grounds but if I turn around and watch a football match on an adjacent pitch, would I be in breach of FA rules?
National League South side Dorking Wanderers are taking a stance on this; Owner and Manager Marc White took to the club’s Twitter account to challenge the FA. “It is critical that the FA push for ‘trading parallels’ to be inline with other industries, all clubs from Step 7 above rely upon supporters to keep their club alive – the stance of not allowing supporters for Pre-Season games is in contrast to what is allowed in other industries.”
“Dorking Wanderers will be seeking legal advice as a trading Ltd Co as to whether or not the club can be prevented from raising income from ‘non-competition’ ‘friendly’ matches IF games are viewed in accordance with EXISTING published government guidance.”
“The football community may well need to come together on this one to make this happen. Why should our clubs & supporters be asked to work outside of existing government guidance & in contrast to so many other industries.”
The potential damage to clubs in these uncertain times is not lost on Marc. Football has seen a major reduction in revenue streams these past few months and without spectators, it’ll continue to do so. The FA are supposed to look out for their members but right now, it seems they’re more intent to punish them. For what reason, we might never know. For now, I’ll be off to watch Cricket, as it appears Coronavirus doesn’t seem to affect supporters there.