Time for the FA to step up
A warm summer Saturday in August saw a number of non-league teams up and down the land get their preseason campaigns underway. For years gone by this has been the same, yet 2020 has turned out to be anything but normal. Coronavirus has changed all facets of life as we know it, including the beautiful game. Bubbles have been created in order to protect the top dollars of the Premier League and Champions League, yet at the opposite end of the ladder, the amateur game has been left in limbo due to confusing guidance, a lack of leadership and changes in political thinking in relation to the virus.
A glorious few days at the start of the month saw clubs from Step 7 open their doors to spectators, allowing this correspondent the opportunity to take in two matches. It was during the second game that the FA released further guidance decreeing the behind closed doors instructions would apply to Step 7 clubs as well as those further up the pyramid. The guidance referenced the fact that some of the friendlies the weekend of 1 August saw over 100 spectators with a tone that made it sound like it was over 100,000. Durham United hosted around 70 at New Ferens Park in a ground that has a capacity of 3,000, a whopping 2.3% full. Social distancing was adhered to, the club operated a ticketing system to fulfil the requirements of track and trace yet this was deemed to be too risky by the FA. If the same 70 people decided to go for a pint in Wetherspoons however, this falls within the remit of the guidance and would be without issue. Scenes of crowded beaches, packed bars and restaurants and perhaps most gallingly, packed amateur cricket matches make a mockery of the logic that a small number of people watching a football match are a virus transmission risk.
It is a miracle that more clubs are not going to the wall when their primary source of income is being limited in a nonsensical move. Whilst it is easy to blame the government, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport is taking its lead from the FA, who have failed to communicate the differences between the non-league world of the National League and the village clubs at Steps 6 & 7 who play in parks and small grounds. The irony is these small clubs are free to open their clubhouses to try and foster some revenue, yet the same people who are allowed in to an indoor area to spend money are not allowed to stand on their own around a minimum 300 yard perimeter of a football pitch in the open air. This correspondent is no scientist but accepted wisdom is that the risk of transmission is negligible in the open air.
Clubs are planning for a September restart yet are unsure whether they will be able to admit spectators when the leagues start up again. Without clarity soon, it may be a fragmented start to the season as more clubs follow Droylsden in withdrawing from their leagues due to the uncertainty that reigns supreme. Come on FA, go back to DCMS and give them a proposal that will allow fans back in grounds before it is too late.