Why it could be 2021 before fans return to football

  • Chief medical officer advises social distancing to remain during 2020
  • Health minister Matt Hancock reiterates stances on social distancing
  • Football behind closed doors most likely option

Football fans are bracing themselves for the possibility that they will not be able to enter grounds until 2021. With Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty saying on Wednesday that “We should be realistic” about the likelihood in relying on social distancing until the end of the calendar year it appears nothing much will change until a vaccine is found for Coronavirus.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock reiterated this week that we will have to keep social distancing measures in place to avoid a second peak in cases. All the noises coming from government appear to prepare the nation that we are in this for the long haul even long after the peak of the virus has diminished.

We all understand the unprecedented times we are experiencing with this deadly virus and that football comes a very long way down the list of priorities. With the death toll in the UK hitting 20,000 and that total does not take into account deaths in care homes or the community it is a very sobering thought. Yet eventually life will return to some sort of normality, it has to. Whether that be businesses reopening or children returning to schools things will start to open again. Football however, is lower down the list of priorities for the government.

Even if football returns behind closed doors there are a number of factors to consider. Firstly the health of the players. Playing a contact sport with players tightly marking each other, the possibility of transmission of the virus is high. Players will need to be tested on a regular basis with temperature checks daily. Even playing a game behind closed doors means a large number of people involved.

There are the squads, physios, ball boys, press, ground staff the list of people involved just to get a game on behind closed doors mounts up. Social distancing will have to be adhered to in the ground to avoid any form of contamination.

With so many key workers struggling to get tested how can footballers expect regular testing?

Whilst all these issues can be overcome with a degree of thought and planning it still means supporters are unlikely to be allowed into games anytime soon. With the talk from ministers that social distancing is here to stay and for some considerable time it is hard to imagine how clubs will reintroduce supporters into grounds.

It seems impossible to play with reduced attendances. How would Liverpool for example who sell out Anfield say who can and who cannot enter to see Liverpool play if for argument’s sake the authorities allow say 10,000 people into Anfield but sit 2 metres apart? It wouldn’t work as you cannot have that many people travelling and mingling together before & after the game.

The longer the season is in limbo the worst the scenario becomes for many clubs outside the top 10, especially the lower leagues. If football returns but behind closed doors at least the commercial revenue from broadcasters will not be withdrawn but matchday revenue which many rely on will still be nonexistent.

Television money alone doesn’t keep clubs afloat they rely on matchday revenue too and it remains to be seen what will happen. With all the talk of social distancing remaining throughout 2020 how on earth can fans return to stadiums? We may still have football to watch on the television or listen to on the radio come June or July, but will we still have all 92 clubs come 2021?

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