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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 5:17 pm on 9th November 2020.

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Photo of Sara Britcliffe Sara Britcliffe Conservative, Hyndburn 5:17 pm, 9th November 2020

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Stringer.

The heartbeat of every football club is its supporters. From 14 March Accrington Stanley supporters have not been able to see their team play at first hand. There are few places in most towns where the whole borough has the opportunity to gather and meet as a community for the same purpose, to watch the town team play football. Those are places where children, parents, grandparents and friends can come together.

I acknowledge the hard work of Accrington Stanley football club, which has paid its players without deferment, and has secured funding in the form of a loan to keep the club afloat. The team are back to playing, but huge costs are being incurred without income coming back to the club through fans, sponsors, hospitality or any other form of secondary income. That is obviously unsustainable. The club needs income, and there is a need for pressure to be put on the Premier League and the FA to get a bail-out sorted. There is enough money in football; it just seems to be poorly distributed.

On 24 September at column 114 I asked the Minister in the House about a road map for the return of fans to professional football and he said that the Government were working with sporting authorities to support the return of fans. That road map is now more necessary than ever. Once the current lockdown ends, our sports clubs will need our support to enable them to prepare an annual budget or business plan to weather the crisis. It is not right to let clubs continue to lose money without giving them a timescale to work towards. They need the assurance of hope.

In September the return of fans to football games was piloted for certain clubs. Up to 1,000 fans were welcomed using the Government’s stage 5 protocols and guidance. English Football League clubs implemented a wide range of measures to ensure that the spectator journey was built around maintaining social distancing. From those matches the University of Edinburgh conducted a study to show that more than 90% of people who attended were confident that the event organisers could deliver spectator safety. Having reviewed the findings from that study, I believe that the pilots were a success and that football clubs will be able to deliver a covid-secure experience for fans. I hope that the Government will reflect on those findings and work with sports clubs to give them a road map to allow fans back into stadiums as soon as it is safe to do so.

Throughout this pandemic, we have had our community centres, pubs, cafés, gyms, theatres and leisure centres threatened by these financially turbulent times. If we forget our football clubs, we risk cutting out the heart of local communities across the country. Once the pandemic is over, we will need community hubs more than ever. To let our football clubs disappear would be too big a blow for towns such as mine.