Norwich and Middlesbrough among EFL clubs hosting fans this weekend

September 16, 2020

Norwich and Middlesbrough are among nine EFL clubs who will be allowed to admit up to 1,000 spectators at games this weekend.

The move comes as part of the ongoing 'return of fans' pilot programme, with the organisation still in discussions with the government about a return for supporters in greater numbers after October 1.

From the Championship, Norwich's home clash with Preston and Middlesbrough's match versus Bournemouth will all see fans allowed into the ground.

Luton were due to host fans for their Championship fixture against Derby on Saturday, but pulled out, citing a lack of preparation time as the reason.

In League One Charlton vs Doncaster Rovers, Blackpool vs Swindon Town, Shrewsbury vs Northampton and Hull vs Crewe will also see supporters admitted.

Forest Green Rovers vs Bradford City, Carlisle United vs Southend and Morecambe vs Cambridge United will all host fans in the League Two fixtures.

Forest Green Rovers Chairman, Dale Vince, told Sky Sports News: "For us at the moment, it is about actually testing out the procedures and making sure all the theory works in practice so that when we are allowed bigger numbers we can make it work safely…I think it will be a really big deal for fans.

"Football is a really important part of the local community, whatever the club, whatever part of the country it is, it is a big part of people's lives, so when that comes back it will be really special".

However, a number of clubs have told Sky Sports News that the pilots aren't an option for them, because they haven't been given enough time to get safety certificates approved and because of the financial implications.

League One Bristol Rovers' turnover is down 50 per cent, due to the coronavirus pandemic. Chief executive Martyn Starnes told Sky Sports News that he is keen to get fans back, but the numbers need to be higher so that it is financially viable.

He said: "There will be additional costs required in stewarding because we would have to make sure the social distancing is being adhered to clearly, car parks have to be managed, kiosks have to be managed. So my guess would be that we would actually incur more costs having a thousand people in than if the stadium stayed empty".

As far as the government is concerned, they are working to get more fans back into stadiums, but only when it is safe to do so and the recent spike in cases has caused concern. They feel the pilot events, with lower numbers, are a necessity in order to build the evidence base to see how fans in greater numbers can return in future.

EFL chair Rick Parry said: "It's encouraging that we are in a position to move forward with the next phase of the pilot programme and give a small number of our clubs the opportunity to welcome back up to a 1,000 fans this week.

"The health and well-being of supporters and their wider communities remains the priority, but as we showed at Cambridge, social distancing can be applied safely. By extending across more EFL clubs we hope to further demonstrate that the measures developed can allow fans to return in greater numbers from as early as next month.

The pilot event at Cambridge United was indeed a success, as was the return of fans to non-league games. Last month it was announced that they would be allowed to invite 15 per cent of their ground grading capacity. They are now allowed 30 per cent, which is usually around 600 fans in Step 3, so long as the club has taken part in the original pilot.

Coronavirus has clearly had a massive impact financially on so many clubs, but until a significant number of fans can return to stadiums, there are concerns about the survival of some lower league clubs.

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