The English Football League is in discussions with the government and the sports grounds safety authority (SGSA) about staging test events next month as the prospect of supporters returning to stadiums edges closer.
The league, together with the department for digital, culture, media and sport (DCMS) and SGSA has been working with Charlton and Cambridge to devise protocols for a phased return of fans. Matches were played behind closed doors when the Championship season restarted in June but Oliver Dowden, the culture secretary, hopes fans can return with social distancing measures in place in October.
Charlton’s League One match at home to Doncaster on 19 September has been targeted as a test event but it is likely other games could be used as test events before then. Charlton’s stadium has a capacity of 27,111 and it is hoped between 6,000-8,500 supporters could attend matches in October.
The EFL, the DCMS, and the SGSA are continuing to explore how supporters could attend games under such distancing measures and to ready staff for the potential return of crowds. The EFL recognises the importance of match-day revenue to its clubs, with gate receipts making up at least 30% of income at the majority of League One and League Two clubs.
The Valley and Cambridge’s Abbey Stadium, which holds 8,127 supporters, were picked as pilot stadiums as they provide contrasting examples in terms of size, structure, and facility. The clubs have worked with the crowd dynamics specialists Movement Strategies to model how supporters could return, exploring the operational challenges, including the flow of fans.
The league is determined to be ready for fans’ return, should the government give the green light to a phased comeback under stage five of the DCMS guidance, which “allows for spectators to return to competition in a controlled and socially distanced way at reduced capacity in competition venues”.
The new league season is set to get underway in the EFL on 12 September but the Carabao Cup first round takes place on 5 September. In the Championship, Watford begin the season at home to Middlesbrough, while Bournemouth host Blackburn Rovers. In League One stricken Wigan visit Ipswich and in League Two relegated Bolton welcome Forest Green on the opening day.
EFL opening weekend fixtures
Bournemouth v Blackburn; Barnsley v Luton; Birmingham v Brentford; Bristol City v Coventry; Cardiff v Sheffield Weds; Derby v Reading; Huddersfield v Norwich; Millwall v Stoke; Preston v Swansea; QPR v Nottingham Forest; Watford v Middlesbrough; Wycombe v Rotherham.
Accrington v Peterborough; Crewe v Charlton; Doncaster v MK Dons; Fleetwood v Burton; Gillingham v Hull; Ipswich v Wigan; Lincoln v Oxford; Northampton v Wimbledon; Plymouth v Blackpool; Portsmouth v Shrewsbury; Sunderland v Bristol Rovers; Swindon v Rochdale.
Barrow v Stevenage; Bolton v Forest Green; Bradford v Colchester; Cambridge v Carlisle; Cheltenham v Morecambe; Mansfield v Tranmere; Oldham v Leyton Orient; Port Vale v Crawley; Salford v Exeter; Scunthorpe v Newport; Southend v Harrogate; Walsall v Grimsby.
Fixtures to take place weekend of 12-13 September; kick-off times TBC.
Photograph: Michael Zemanek/Rex Features
The government reinstated rules which allowed a restricted number of fans into sporting events last week after the prime minister, Boris Johnson, called off planned pilot events at the beginning of August amid fears over the coronavirus infection rate. Last week’s world snooker championship final acted as a test event as around 300 spectators attended the 1,000-seater Crucible in Sheffield.
Meanwhile, Thomas Sandgaard, a Danish businessman based in Colorado, is in talks with Charlton with a view taking control of the club. Sandgaard, who is in discussions with East Street Investments – who own the club – has also said he has spoken to the former owner, Roland Duchatelet, who still owns the freehold to the club’s Sparrows Lane training ground and the Valley. Paul Elliott, who failed the EFL’s owners’ and directors’ test earlier this month, remains keen on a takeover.