The Football Association has given the green light to the return of a small number of fans in certain non-league divisions, with Mark Bullingham, the organisation’s chief executive, suggesting that the move was essential for the survival of the game at this level.
Bullingham confirmed that England’s Nations League fixtures away to Iceland and Denmark on 5 and 8 September respectively would go ahead – albeit with no supporters in attendance. The shoots of optimism with regard to getting crowds back and a return to some sort of normality came further down the pyramid.
From Saturday, clubs at steps three to six of non-league – in other words, those directly below the National Leagues North and South – will be able to fill up to 15% of their stadiums. The same will apply to clubs at steps three to four of the women’s game, which is National League-level. As of 31 August, the ratio will increase to 30%.
“It is a really positive step to get fans back at that level of football,” Bullingham said. “We’d like to get fans back at all levels but for that level, it’s impossible to see it proceeding without fans, so it’s even more important.”
Bullingham had just taken part in a conference call with representatives of Uefa’s 55 national federations, and the return not only of international football but of fans in stadiums was at the top of the agenda. England’s last match was the 4-0 European Championship qualifying victory over Kosovo in Pristina on 17 November.
Denmark is among 28 European countries that have allowed a limited number of supporters to attend games, but Bullingham said Uefa wanted to apply a “consistent approach for the September [international] window” and, as such, have banned fans from all ties. Bullingham’s hope is that some supporters can return for England’s triple-header in October. Gareth Southgate’s team face Wales in a friendly on 8 October before taking on Belgium and Denmark in the Nations League on 11 and 14 October. All three games are at Wembley.
“Uefa’s overriding consideration was: ‘Let’s get these games done in September without fans and let’s look at that for October’,” Bullingham said. “We’d like to get fans into Wembley in October. We are not talking about full stadia but we are talking about having some level of crowd back.”
Bullingham said that it would not concern him if some Nations League teams were able to have home supporters and others were not.
“We’d be supportive of fans coming back as soon as they can, even if it’s different in different countries,” Bullingham said. “There are radically different situations in different countries and you’ve got to adapt.”