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Update on the resumption of football following lock-down

Update on the resumption of football following lock-down

Following the end of a period of national lock-down, England has reverted to a tiered system of restrictions, the tiers are still numbered 1-3 but the restrictions within individual tiers have been greatly tightened. This has had an impact on our ability to hold matches at the steps 3 & 4 of the non-league system at which the Northern Premier League operates. Although in all tiers clubs are able to play matches and players are able to train, at tier 2 there are restrictive measures in place limiting the sale of food and beverages in grounds (an important revenue stream for all non-league clubs) and in tier 3 matches must be played without spectators which is financially unviable for the majority of clubs.

So how does this affect the various FC United sides?

Men’s Team:

The league had been due to resume week commencing 7th December following the end of lock-down. The majority of NPL clubs are now situated in tier 3.

At a meeting of clubs organised by all 3 leagues on Tuesday 1st December, the league confirmed that, unlike the period prior to lock-down, the restrictions on spectators would apply to our level of grassroots football and that, unlike arrangements with Steps 1 & 2 when similar restrictions had prevented them from playing with spectators, no financial support had been offered to compensate clubs at steps 3 & 4. The clubs were asked to vote on a proposal that “that steps 3 and 4 continue the current pause in the season with a regular review in the light of changes to the current Tiers and/or grants becoming available".

The clubs voted overwhelmingly that they could not restart under the current conditions imposed on us so all step 3 and 4 leagues will remain suspended, with a first review scheduled for 16th December.

FC United’s Position:

FC United of Manchester currently finds itself in a tier 3 area and would therefore be prevented from having any spectators at matches and voted in favour of the proposal to delay the restart. The club has put in a huge amount of effort to provide a Covid safe environment for supporters to watch football. We have adapted to all the changing regulations on the sale of food & beverage. Our supporters have been terrific in the way they have accepted adapted regulations and adhered to measures put in for their safety. We believe that we have demonstrated it is safe for spectators to attend Broadhurst Park in limited numbers to watch football and we are baffled by the government’s change of policy, without any evidence presented to underpin it and at a time when the infection rate in Greater Manchester is significantly lower than the period prior to lock-down when we were allowed 600 spectators.

It is simply not financially viable for us to play football without spectators or financial assistance to compensate. Two weeks ago the government stole the headlines with a promise of £14 million of support for steps 3 to 6 of the non-league system. Our league informs us that no concrete details have been forthcoming but the information so far is that all of the support will be in the form of loans and none in the form of grants. The government have set a precedent by providing a grant subsidy through the National Lottery for clubs at steps 1 & 2 to allow them to play without spectators. FC United does not understand why a similar offer has not been extended to grassroots clubs below step 2.

Like National League clubs we are also clubs at the heart of our communities, never more so than during this crisis. In the case of FC United we were commended by the High Sherriff of Manchester for our ongoing food hub helping our community through this pandemic. All non-league clubs can show how much they matter in their local communities but the government’s position of not supporting clubs below step 2 affected by the restrictions it has imposed highlights that to government grassroots football does not matter. However much we want to complete this campaign, any suggestion that clubs should be forced to decide between taking on debt they can’t afford or face the prospect of cancelling another season shows a stupendous lack of understanding and total apathy for grassroots football from government.

Women’s team:

We have received notification that the Women’s team will restart their North West Regional League Premier Division campaign on Sunday 6th December and will play their SSE Women’s FA Cup 1st round home tie on Sunday 13th December. Unfortunately whilst Manchester remains in tier 3, government restrictions for our area are that:

“There should be no public attendance at any National League System fixtures. One parent allowed if an under-18 is playing, for safeguarding purposes.”

Our FA Cup tie will be played in the main stadium, and there will be no admission under any circumstances for those not fulfilling a specific pre-arranged function at the match and no spectators will be permitted. We understand the disappointment this will cause and, subject to receiving the necessary permissions, we intend to live stream the FA Cup match to ensure our tremendous supporters can at least watch the game at home. 

We would ask that for any match played on the 3G whilst these restrictions are in place, spectators stay away. Our car park is a public right of way and we cannot prevent access but the guidelines are very specific that spectators must not attend. Any gathering in numbers would probably require the game to be postponed and could see enforcement action by the police should they consider it to be an illegal gathering.

If/ when Manchester is moved to tier 2 or restrictions are amended we will be delighted to welcome you back and will update you of procedures for spectating. Teams in tier 2 are permitted spectators and it will be up to our hosts situated in those areas to decide on spectator admission. However, if spectators are allowed, for those of our support residing in tier 3 the club would ask that you seriously consider government guidelines before deciding whether to attend:

“You should avoid travelling outside your area and reduce the number of journeys you make wherever possible.”

Those living outside of tier 3 and those attending must adhere to regulations at the match:

“At these fixtures, it is vital that the rule of six of adhered to and that groups are no larger than six people. There should be no mingling between groups. Once in a six-person group, spectators must remain within it.”

Academy Sides:

The Academy continued to attend Broadhurst Park for academic learning and training during lock-down but leagues were suspended. We await confirmation of restart plans for their leagues.

First Posted ~ 20:10 Fri 4 Dec 2020
News ID ~ 8858
Last Updated ~ 17:00 Fri 19 Feb 2021