The English Football League (EFL) has today (Wednesday) announced that 10 clubs will be permitted to admit spectators this weekend as part of the ongoing ‘return of fans’ pilot programme, but Championship team Luton Town has already stated it won’t participate due to lack of preparation time.
As per the current guidance, crowds will be capped at a capacity of 1,000 as discussions continue with the UK Government about return for supporters’ in greater numbers post October 1. The move to extend the programme follows a successful pilot staged by League Two team Cambridge United last week when fans were in attendance at a professional football match for the first time since March.
The EFL has announced 10 confirmed games for the weekend of September 19-20 as follows:
Luton Town v Derby County
Middlesbrough v AFC Bournemouth
Norwich City v Preston North End
Blackpool v Swindon Town
Charlton Athletic v Doncaster Rovers
Hull City v Crewe Alexandra
Shrewsbury Town v Northampton Town
Carlisle United v Southend United
Forest Green Rovers v Bradford City
Morecambe v Cambridge United
However, Luton has already announced that it will not take part, criticising the EFL’s communication in making today’s statement. Luton said: “On Tuesday at around midday, having received an email from the EFL asking for clubs to volunteer to take part, we put ourselves forward. We responded within the hour because, like many clubs, we are desperate to have our supporters back inside Kenilworth Road (pictured).
“To stage a game with supporters here would take a lot of preparation time, and unfortunately, despite asking again from very early this morning, we had heard nothing from the League until a few minutes before they issued their statement stating that we were one of the clubs taking part.
“Sadly, this does not give us enough time to get ready so we are unable to host spectators here for the Derby match. We understand that the EFL are beholden to DCMS (Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport), but to request clubs to offer and then not back up quickly, knowing there is such little time to prepare, is very disappointing and we are sorry to disappoint supporters who may have raised hopes of attending Saturday’s match.”
The EFL was yesterday cleared to stage pilot matches this weekend, with a meeting to be held with Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden later this week to discuss the wider return of fans from next month. Last week, the UK government announced that pilot events held in England this month would be restricted to 1,000 spectators.
EFL chair, Rick Parry, said today: “The health and well-being of supporters and their wider communities remains the priority, but as we showed at Cambridge, social distancing can be applied safely. By extending across more EFL clubs we hope to further demonstrate that the measures developed can allow fans to return in greater numbers from as early as next month.
“The requirement to welcome spectators back through turnstiles has not diminished in any way, the financial challenges facing EFL clubs have been explained on numerous occasions, they are substantial and a problem that requires immediate solutions.”
Dowden added: “I know that many fans are eager to return to football and that jobs depend on this too, so fans will welcome news that the EFL will be running number capped, COVID secure, and socially distanced pilots this weekend. This will help us build the evidence base to see how we can return fans safely in greater numbers as soon as it is safe to do so.”
Image: Luton Town