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THE EFL said today that it will try to delay its December 1 fixture schedule by one day in a bid to get fans into stadiums, as sport expressed wary optimism over supporters’ return.
On Monday Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that as of December 2 up to 4,000 supporters can attend matches depending on levels of Covid-19 in the area.
The long-overdue decision was described as a “lifeline” by EFL chairman Rick Parry, who is now seeking to get fans in as quickly as possible.
“At League One and League Two level it could be very significant,” he said.
“It’s not just the money, it’s a very welcome return to an atmosphere. And if we get 4,000 at League Two level it would be very welcome …
“It’s great news for fans, they’ve been missing their football. All being well this is just the start.”
While some clubs will be forced to play behind closed doors under the government’s labyrinthine three-tier system, those in Tiers 1 and 2 can allow fans in.
Bournemouth, QPR, Sunderland, Oxford, Plymouth and Colchester are among the clubs currently due to host matches on December 1.
Rotherham chairman Tony Stewart likewise welcomed the decision to allow a limited number of fans back into stadiums in lower-risk areas, but warned it may “be good news for a few and not for a lot.”
“It is good news, but it depends what tier we’re in,” he said. “It might be good news for a few and not for a lot.”
“We need the detail,” Parry agreed. “We won’t know that until Thursday. We will need permissions from the safety advisory groups, we need to know this is done properly, so it’s one step at a time.”
“Some clubs will still have safety officers on furlough — it’s taken everyone a bit by surprise,” he said.
“We weren’t really expecting anything before Christmas …Clearly it’s something we’ve been pressing for but it’s literally in the last few days that it has become a reality.”
Man City boss Pep Guardiola welcomed the news of a potential, limited return of supporters to events in the near future.
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp likewise welcomed the development, but had questions about the logic being applied to the numbers involved.
“The problem is, I just struggle to put faith in any kind of announcements,” he said.
“I don’t understand why it is only 2,000 people in a 60,000 stadium. But I am not surprised. It’s good news, a good sign. I’ll take it, 100 per cent.”
Meanwhile in rugby union, Eddie Jones’s England are likely to face France in the Autumn Nations Cup showpiece, which could be staged in front of a crowd of up to 4,000 spectators if Twickenham is considered to be in an area of low coronavirus risk.
In a statement, the RFU said: “Once we know what tier Twickenham will be in, we will consider running the Autumn Nations Cup final as a test event to support the return of fans to stadiums.
“We are reviewing options and working through the details of how we would manage ticket distribution.”
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