EFL will bid to move December 1 matches back a day to allow fans in to stadiums

By Andy Sims, PA
·5-min read

The English Football League will attempt to move its December 1 fixture schedule to a day later in order to take advantage of the decision to allow fans back into grounds.

On Monday Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that as of December 2 up to 4,000 supporters can attend matches depending on levels of Covid-19 in the area.

EFL chairman Rick Parry says the decision is a “lifeline” for lower-league clubs and will now try to move some of next Tuesday’s matches to Wednesday in order to get fans in as quickly as possible.

“We welcome the Prime Minister’s announcement because clearly we’ve been pushing for the return of fans for some considerable time,” Parry told Radio Four’s Today programme.

Rick Parry File Photo
EFL chairman Rick Parry has welcomed the Government’s decision (Mike Egerton/PA)

“We have to build upon it because what we are really looking forward to is getting fans back in more substantial numbers but this is a really welcome start.

“At League One and League Two level it could be very significant. It’s not just the money it’s a very welcome return to an atmosphere, and if we get 4,000 at League Two level it would be very welcome. It can be a very welcome lifeline.”

“It’s great news for fans, they’ve been missing their football. All being well this is just the start.”

While some clubs will have to continue to play behind closed doors under the Government’s three-tier system, those in tiers one and two can allow fans in.

Gillingham v Charlton Athletic – Sky Bet League One – Priestfield Stadium
Football grounds have been empty since March (Gareth Fuller/PA)

Bournemouth, QPR, Sunderland, Oxford, Plymouth and Colchester are among the clubs due to host matches on December 1, who could in theory switch to 24 hours later.

“We need the detail,” added Parry. “Clearly we have a number of games taking place on December 1, in theory we will be as flexible as we can if they can be moved to December 2. But we don’t know which clubs will be in which tier yet.

“We won’t know that until Thursday. We will need permissions from the safety advisory groups, we need to know this is done properly so it’s one step at a time.”

However, Parry admits there will be some logistical hurdles to overcome if clubs are going to be able to welcome back supporters.

“Some clubs will still have safety officers on furlough, it’s taken everyone a bit by surprise,” he said.

“We weren’t really expecting anything before Christmas. There’s a lot of work to do quite quickly and it’s really important that we get this right.

“It’s not a case of rushing into this and tripping over. It’s a case of being measured, getting it right,

“The clubs will be taken by surprise because they were expecting nothing really before Christmas. We’ve been involved in discussions with the DCMS (Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) who’ve been incredibly supportive.

“Clearly it’s something we’ve been pressing for but it’s literally in the last few days that it has become a reality.”

Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola welcomed the news of a potential, limited return of supporters to events in the near future.

Pep Guardiola
Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola welcomed the news (Paul Childs/PA)

During the press conference ahead of his side’s Champions League Group C clash at Olympiacos, he said: “If they believe it is the best, we will do it and hopefully it will work.

“If the Government has decided, they must have listened to the scientists and doctors.”

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp also welcomed the development, but had questions about the logic being applied to the numbers involved.

“The problem is, I just struggle to put faith in any kind of announcements,” he said.

“I don’t understand why it is only 2,000 people in a 60,000 stadium. But I am not surprised. It’s good news, good sign. I’ll take it, 100 per cent.”

Colchester chairman Robbie Cowling says it is vital fans feel safe when they first return to grounds.

“It takes a lot of people and a lot of logistics and we want to plan it perfectly,” Cowling told Sky Sports News.

“The first time people come back it’s so important that they feel really safe and they go away and tell people how safe it is at a match compared to a lot of other things.

“That’s the challenge we’ve set ourselves, to make sure that first experience is a really good one.”

Twickenham has been empty over the past few months
Twickenham has been empty over the past few months (David Davies/PA)

The Rugby Football Union is considering whether to use the climax to England’s Autumn Nations Cup campaign on December 6 as an opportunity to prepare for the eventual return of supporters to Twickenham.

Eddie Jones’ side are likely to face France in the competition’s showpiece event, which could be staged in front of a crowd of up to 4,000 spectators if the area is considered to be one of low coronavirus risk.

A spokesperson for the RFU said: “Once we know what tier Twickenham will be in, we will consider running the Autumn Nations Cup final as a test event to support the return of fans to stadiums.

“We are reviewing options and working through the details of how we would manage ticket distribution.”