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Government delays return of fans to UK football stadiums

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The government was hoping to allow limited fan attendance at grounds by October 1. That will not happen.

Bramall Lane - Sheffield United Football Club Photo by Visionhaus

The UK government was hopeful that their coronavirus containment policies would be enough to start trialing the return of fans to stadiums for sporting events beginning October 1. However, with the number of positive COVID-19 cases skyrocketing in the United Kingdom in recent weeks, that proposal has now been delayed. Football matches in the Premier League and throughout the pyramid will continue to be played behind closed doors for at least the next six months.

The decision to postpone the return of fans comes at the same time that the Carabao Cup match between Leyton Orient and Tottenham Hotspur was called off after an outbreak of positive COVID-19 tests within the Orient first team squad, tests that Tottenham paid for.

From a health and safety perspective, it’s an easy decision, as absent a vaccine the coronavirus continues to spread relatively unabated after the loosening of restrictions a few months ago. However, there are now serious concerns being expressed about the medium to long term future for football clubs in the lower divisions.

Dan Kilpatrick, writing for the Standard, suggests that London-based clubs in the Football League might end up in real financial trouble to the extent that many could end up going under if the government does not issue a financial bailout. Macclesfield Town and Bury have both already folded in the COVID era, and Football League clubs are much more reliant on matchday revenue than the larger clubs. The decision to not allow fans will probably have an impact on Championship and Premier League teams as well.

There are no good answers here. The decision to continue to play sports but without fans is the right one from a health standpoint, but the pain is acutely felt by clubs all the way down the pyramid and could result in a pretty dramatic change in the landscape of sport in the UK.