Cambridge to set first with return of fans, Harrogate lands stadium sponsor

Cambridge United is set to become the first English football club to welcome fans back for a competitive fixture following the COVID-19 lockdown, while fellow League Two team Harrogate Town has signed a stadium naming rights deal ahead of its first season in the English Football League (EFL).

Cambridge’s Abbey Stadium (pictured) will host two test events, the first an EFL Trophy game against Fulham U21s on September 8 and the second its opening home game of the 2020-21 League Two campaign against Carlisle United on September 12.

The match against Fulham U21s will see 1,000 home supporters able to attend in a socially distanced manner in the Newmarket Road End, North Habbin Stand, South Habbin Stand and Mead Plant & Grab Stand.

Meanwhile, Abbey Stadium will also be staging a full pilot event for the Carlisle fixture, with Cambridge United able to permit access to 2,500 home supporters across every area of the ground. Cambridge has been chosen to host the two test events, having previously been part of a joint project by the EFL and the Sports Grounds Safety Authority (SGSA) that looked at the safe application of social distancing at football grounds.

That work was overseen by crowd dynamics experts Movement Strategies, which will also assess the pilot matches at the Abbey Stadium on behalf of the SGSA and Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS).

Cambridge said appropriate measures have been applied at the Abbey Stadium, with both terraces and seating arrangements available. It added that two fixtures taking place at the same venue in a short period of time will allow for any learnings to be implemented quickly under the same conditions.

Cambridge United CEO Ian Mather said: “First and foremost, it is a real honour for Cambridge United to be able to represent our fellow professional football clubs, and lead the way in the government and EFL’s pilot work to re-introduce supporters to football stadiums at competitive matches across the country.

“For us to be able to welcome our own supporters back to the Abbey Stadium after such a long period away, I’m certain will be welcome news indeed to our fanbase, who have been incredibly supportive throughout the tough period since the COVID-19 outbreak.

“Cambridge United will strive to do everything we can to make these events as safe and successful as they possibly can be, so that we play our part in football supporters up and down the country being able to return to watch their own respective clubs.”

The UK government recently announced the formation of a working group that will explore high-tech solutions to allow more fans to return to stadiums. The Sport Tech Innovation Group – announced in the wake of fans returning to a Premier League stadium for the first time in five months over the weekend at Brighton – will include sport, health and tech experts as well as the Premier League, England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) and other sporting bodies.

Some 2,500 Brighton & Hove Albion fans attended the club’s home friendly against Chelsea at the Amex Stadium on Saturday under tight restrictions imposed by the government and football authorities as part of its pilot scheme to safely return supporters to stadiums.

Women’s Super League club West Ham this week confirmed plans for 1,000 of its women’s season ticket holders to attend the WSL match against Arsenal on September 12 at the club’s new home stadium, Dagenham & Redbridge FC’s Victoria Road.

Meanwhile, Harrogate Town has agreed a stadium naming rights deal with ventilation equipment manufacturer EnviroVent. The Harrogate-based company becomes as a major sponsor of the Yorkshire club for the 2020-21 season, with the deal set to see the stadium rebranded from CNG Stadium to EnviroVent Stadium.

EnviroVent has sponsored a stand at the stadium for the past seven seasons. Managing director Andy Makin said: “We are extremely proud of our local club, they have come very far over the past few years and have achieved so much recently.  The club is an important part of the local community and it’s an honour to be able to play a part in its journey at this monumental time.”

Harrogate will open its EFL era away from its home due to work being conducted on the stadium. The club last month confirmed it had reached a temporary groundshare agreement with League One team Doncaster Rovers while its new pitch is installed.

Harrogate, which was promoted to the EFL for the first time with a 3-1 National League play-off victory over Notts County at Wembley, had played on a synthetic pitch. EFL regulations state that all matches should be played on grass surfaces, meaning that Harrogate needs to replace the 3G turf before playing matches at the venue.

EnviroVent Stadium has a current capacity of 3,800 and its Main Stand has also been redeveloped to enhance this figure to 5,000. Doncaster’s Keepmoat Stadium has a capacity of 15,000 and is 42 miles from Harrogate. The club’s first match back at EnviroVent Stadium is currently scheduled to be the October 17 meeting with fellow newly-promoted team Barrow AFC.

Image: Cambridge United