EFL chairman Rick Parry has insisted the return of fans to football grounds is entirely compatible with the government’s ‘rule of six’ ahead of a weekend of pilot events.
Up to 1,000 fans will be allowed at eight fixtures across the three divisions of the EFL – including the Championship matches at Middlesbrough and Norwich – on Saturday afternoon.
But the decision caused a backlash of criticism with furious fans asking why it was safe for fans to watch football matches but not to have social or family gatherings of more than six people.
Up to 1,000 fans will be admitted to eight EFL fixtures this Saturday in the latest test events
The EFL hope this weekend’s games are the latest set to safely returning fans to stadiums
EFL chairman Rick Parry has insisted the pilot games will be compatible with the ‘rule of six’
Parry, who said EFL clubs are losing £25million a month while fans aren’t allowed in stadiums over Covid-19 concerns, believes these trial events in football can ‘show the nation the way forward.’
He told Today on BBC Radio 4: ‘It’s entirely compatible with the rule of six. I think the government has a challenge in explaining all of the rules simply.
‘The government wants people to return to work, children to return to schools, students are returning to universities in huge numbers.
‘We understand completely the rule of six but in terms of the social distancing within stadiums it’s entirely compatible with the rule of six.
‘Given we’re the most regulated industry in the country when it comes to managing large events we can be an exemplar.
‘As we look for positive solutions amid the coronavirus crisis we can set examples of a return to a degree of normality safely and with social distancing in place.’
Carrow Road in Norwich is one of eight EFL venues that will host pilot events this Saturday in which a maximum of 1,000 spectators will be admitted
The latest pilot events follow a successful trial at Cambridge’s Abbey Stadium last week
EFL Pilot matches
Saturday 3pm unless stated
Norwich City v Preston North End
Middlesbrough v AFC Bournemouth
Blackpool v Swindon Town
Charlton Athletic v Doncaster Rovers
Shrewsbury v Northampton
Hull City v Crewe Alexandra
Forest Green Rovers v Bradford City
Carlisle v Southend (1pm)
Norwich, who host Preston North End at Carrow Road, are making provisions for 1,000 season ticket holders, selected by a randon ballot, to sit in ‘support bubbles’ of up to six within the stadium.
Middlesbrough, who welcome Bournemouth to the Riverside Stadium, said ‘fans must adhere to the single-seating arrangements’ with just one stand open.
Luton Town were initially another Championship club set to welcome fans for their match against Derby County but said the EFL hadn’t given them enough time to make preparations at Kenilworth Road.
The League One fixtures at Blackpool, Charlton Athletic, Hull City and Shrewsbury Town, and the League Two games at Carlisle United and Forest Green Rovers, on Saturday will also welcome up to 1,000 spectators.
Blackpool issued a long list of rules that fans in attendance at their game with Swindon will have to follow including planning safe trips to the toilet.
In what will likely become a ‘new normal’ for football fans for the foreseeable future, they are urged to ‘take care when shouting, singing or celebrating’, remain in their seats and only move around when gangways and staircases are clear.
Fans will have to use the ‘brush past’ method, which avoids face-to-face contact, to move past any other people in the stands.
The latest set of games follows a successful pilot event involving 1,000 fans at last week’s EFL Trophy match between Cambridge United and Fulham Under 21.
The events will take place despite the latest restrictions from the government in introducing the ‘rule of six’ at the beginning of this week.
The ‘rule of six’ limits came into effect in England and Scotland on Monday and apply to both indoor and outdoor gatherings. They apply to indoor groups in Wales.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his ministers acted after the UK’s coronavirus reproduction rare escalated to between one and 1.2 for the first time since March.
It followed three consecutive days of over 3,000 new cases and comes amid a shortage of tests.
Blackpool issued a lengthy list of rules and guidelines for fans attending their game
Boris Johnson’s government introduced the ‘rule of six’ this week after a spike in new cases
Parry reiterated his hope that this weekend’s matches will help convince the government that supporters can return in limited numbers from October 1.
A plan for grounds to be up to a third full next month is now under review.
He said: ‘Our point is that we need supporters back in stadiums because we are hemorrhaging around £25m a month.
‘The cost across the season to us is £200m, which is not sustainable, and we believe all the work that has been done on the safe return to stadiums with the government is a practical and workable solution going forward.
‘Clearly if the tests with 1,000 are successful, we hope to build on that gradually and get back to the October aspiration of playing safely with reduced capacities and showing the nation the way forward.’
Fans reacted with anger and bewilderment at the decision to allow 1,000 fans in to the games