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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 5:20 pm on 9th November 2020.

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Photo of Kieran Mullan Kieran Mullan Conservative, Crewe and Nantwich 5:20 pm, 9th November 2020

My constituency boasts the mighty Crewe Alexandra FC as well as several other smaller clubs, who have all been affected by the coronavirus. Technically, the stadium is located just across the border of the area of Nantwich that I represent. Nantwich Town FC is another club that play a big role in the community.

Crewe Alex has made a huge effort to make the iconic Alexandra Stadium, which is often known locally as Gresty Road, covid-secure. Founded in 1877, Crewe Alex has been part of my constituency for 143 years. Like many other people, I live close enough to hear the crowds on matchday. The club takes its name from the pub where the first games were held: the Princess Alexandra. We must ensure that the coronavirus is not the final chapter in this club’s history.

Crewe Alex fans are totally dedicated to their club. They have even become shareholders and have a place on the board. As a group of fans, they also give back through community volunteering. I recently met Mark Beavan from the Railwaymen Supporters Society. He talked passionately about the huge community surrounding the club and about how, particularly for some of the oldest fans, coming to matches and being part of that community is vital for their mental health and wellbeing. We must not underestimate how important football clubs are to many of their fans.

As hon. Members have mentioned, the EFL hosted eight successful pilot fixtures in September, which saw clubs welcome 1,000 supporters back to the stands. I understand the Government might have concerns, most likely not around the fans while they are in the venues, but around their socialising before and after the match and the fact that they travel from all across the country. Unfortunately, however, not enough has been done to explain and justify the decision, which I hope the Minister can do today.

I would like the Government to provide us with a road map for how football fans will be able to return to grounds when it is safe to do so. People need hope—a way forward, at least. Every week, track and trace gets better. On Saturday, we had a testing capacity of almost 520,000, and we are now testing an entire city. The Sports Technology Innovation Working Group has been working with sports bodies to look into high-tech solutions to getting fans back into venues, and I would be grateful if the Minister could update us on that. While fans are not present at matches, the financial uncertainty for clubs is huge. Matchday revenue is vital to local clubs up and down the country—without it, the future of clubs looks uncertain. If clubs are to be prevented from welcoming fans back, they need to know that support will be in place for them in the months ahead.

Football clubs are the pride and joy of so many of our local communities. It is clear that clubs and fans are willing to do what it takes to get spectators back into stadiums. I urge the Government to do whatever they can to ensure that clubs come out of the other side of this pandemic holding the same important role that they have always had in our communities and still playing a big part in the lives of so many of their fans.