Football Spectator Attendance: Covid-19 — [Graham Stringer in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 5:08 pm on 9th November 2020.

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Photo of James Wild James Wild Conservative, North West Norfolk 5:08 pm, 9th November 2020

I declare an interest as a Norwich City season ticket holder and a supporter of my local club, King’s Lynn Town FC. This is an important debate. When the national restrictions end on 2 December, we should let fans back into grounds.

Having been one of the 1,000 fans in the crowd at Norwich City’s game against Preston North End—one of the pilot matches—I am confident that that can be done safely. Fans were asked to arrive in good time; there were temperature and ID checks; food and drink areas were closed in the grounds, so hawkers brought stuff to people in their seats; fans were socially distanced and in the fresh air; and exits were staggered at the end. There has been no evidence of transmission from pilot matches. Indeed, the Minister told me in a written answer that the Department was confident that any issues could be mitigated.

We need to let fans back in because the current restrictions are having a major impact on clubs’ finances and threatening their futures. King’s Lynn FC depends on match day income to survive, and while I welcome the funding provided to the national league and thank my hon. Friend the Minister for his work and efforts in securing that, it does not make up for the loss of revenue that club is experiencing. Norwich City’s accounts, published last week, showed it had lost £12 million due to covid, yet the Premier League has only made a derisory offer of £20 million for leagues one and two, with a further £30 million of loans, and no support for championship teams. I share the Government’s view, and that of other hon. Members who have spoken today: the Premier League needs to take a long-term view of the importance of the pyramid, and support championship and league one clubs. Leaving it to the Premier League to sort it out is clearly not working, and if there is not movement, then the Government need to step in and tell it what is expected.

It is the impact on the fans—the 12th player—that is my major concern. Football is not just a game: it is much more than that. Clubs, as we have heard, are at the heart of our communities. They give people a sense of belonging; of being part of a family of fans. Going to matches is a huge part of their lives, and not being allowed in hurts their mental health. This weekend, King’s Lynn beat Port Vale in the first round of the FA cup—a great result, but no fans were there, and watching on a streaming service is no substitute. The Sports Grounds Safety Authority has given King’s Lynn approval to have 1,400 fans in its ground. Norwich has been allowed to have 8,000 fans, rather than the 26,000 that can usually be seen at fortress Carrow Road; it will make it work.

To conclude, Norwich’s joint majority shareholder, Delia Smith, has written an open letter to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister that asks,

“before the final whistle is blown, can we have our football back?”

I say to the Minister:

“Come on, let’s be having you!”

Let fans in.