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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 5:22 pm on 9th November 2020.

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Photo of Richard Holden Richard Holden Conservative, North West Durham 5:22 pm, 9th November 2020

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Stringer. I thank my hon. Friend Jonathan Gullis for representing the petitioners and speaking so eloquently on behalf of many of us about the issues faced by many clubs.

I am lucky in North West Durham: because I am a Blackburn fan, I am neither a Magpie nor a Mackem, so I have managed to avoid many of the issues that come with that. Although hon. Members have spoken on behalf of clubs in the EFL—I know Sunderland have faced a lot of issues recently—I would like to speak on behalf of my clubs in tiers 9 and 10 of the English football league pyramid, particularly Consett, Tow Law Town, Crook Town and Willington, some of whose owners have put thousands of pounds of their own money into supporting their clubs in recent months. I have had an email from the chairman of Consett, Frank Bell, saying that their revenues are now 85% down. For them, it is not just ticket sales; it is also all the add-ons, such as the pints behind the bar, which are usually served by his son. His wife runs the little kitchen there. Everything, down to the matchday programmes, is really hit by what is happening at the moment.

I have a plea: when this lockdown ends, I implore the Government to let fans back into grounds. The clubs in my patch are really small, but they are really reliant on income from their loyal fans. It can be done safely. We have not seen any covid transmission at football clubs in my patch. We need to bring fans back, because it is the only way that those clubs, who are at the heart of their communities, can survive. They need some grant support, but that will not make up for the funding that they get from their fans.

Briefly, before I conclude, I will mention the huge community impact of some of the clubs. Consett sees 1,500 children a week playing at its club, about 2,000 adults a week come through the door, and its BTEC education programme has more than 100 students. It was a national charity’s sports club of the year in 2018 and 2019 and the Mirror Group football club of the year for the past three years, beating many teams at higher levels. It has been the site of our local test and trace, in the car park.

This is a real plea on behalf of my local clubs: please, give us a road map as soon as practically possible. That will allow Consett finally to play in the FA Vase final at Wembley, which has been delayed until April next year—for the 2020 season—and allow as many fans as possible to attend.