EFL chief details "deep frustration" with government for blocking return of fans

Rick Parry has revealed his “deep frustration” at the Government for blocking fans returning to games.

Parry insists that even with the Government’s new restrictions it still would have been possible to allow supporters to go to games while observing social distancing.

It has come as a huge body blow to the EFL and, in particular, League One and League Two clubs who are facing financial ruin without gate receipts and match day income which keeps them afloat.

EFL clubs staged “successful” pilot schemes last weekend to allow limited numbers back into grounds with the hope that more would be allowed after October 1.

But the Government have now put that on “pause” and the reality is that the EFL and clubs fear they could be facing the entire 2020/21 without supporters which would leave them at breaking point.

Parry’s voice has been a powerful one in football during the coronavirus pandemic, he has earned wide praise from clubs for the way he has handled the issue and he has spoken up again.

It is a very reasoned argument as he insisted that they can get fans back in while still observing new rules.

Parry said: “Following the successful return of supporters to seven fixtures on Saturday, the EFL is disappointed at yesterday’s decision to suspend plans for the return of fans to matches.

“Of course we recognise that the UK is facing a significant public health crisis and that sport has to play its part in helping the Government manage the spread of the virus at this difficult time.

“This is why over many months we have helped the Government devise, refine and pilot stringent stadium protocols designed to keep supporters safe.

“Staging professional football matches is one of the most heavily regulated areas of crowd management and any supporters attending EFL fixtures, in vastly reduced numbers, would have been required to adhere to social distancing and the rule of six.

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“Therefore we are deeply frustrated that we will not be able to continue this work and, in doing so, gather the evidence to show that crowds can return safely to football and become an important financial lifeline for our clubs.

“Therefore, as a matter of urgency we now need to understand what the Government’s roadmap is for getting supporters back into stadiums as soon as it is deemed safe to do so.

“With extended measures introduced, it is imperative that the financial issues facing our Clubs are addressed quickly.

“We remain optimistic that a solution will be found but we should also be very clear that if it is not, then the outlook for many clubs in the period ahead will be very challenging.”

It may be that by pushing so hard and so ambitiously to get fans back in, the EFL has ended up with an own goal because the Government has now pushed back in a way they might not have done had the date been a little further down the road.

But the knock-on effects are huge for clubs and supporters as the prospect of a whole season without fans is not just devastating from the financial perspective but supporters are denied the chance to watch their team.

Behind closed doors games have become sterile, soulless affairs and even the best match turns into a training exercise when there is no atmosphere or fans.

Kevin Miles, chief executive of the Football Supporters’ Association, has also insisted that fans fear the worst for their clubs.

Miles said: “If you can’t get supporters in grounds something has to be done to make sure that clubs who depend on that match day revenue from fans are able to survive.”

Ben Bradley MP, a Mansfield Town supporter, said: “Many football clubs around the country have found that their hopes of welcoming fans back in have been dashed and, given that many clubs are so reliant on gate receipts to be viable, they are businesses and important parts of the community too.”

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