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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 5:55 pm on 9th November 2020.

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Photo of Jonathan Gullis Jonathan Gullis Conservative, Stoke-on-Trent North 5:55 pm, 9th November 2020

I was saddened to hear that my opening remarks were missed. Once again, I thank Ashley Greenwood for starting the petition—it is because of him and the near 200,000 people who signed the petition that we stand here today. As I said, my constituency of Stoke-on-Trent North, Kidsgrove and Talke has the fourth highest number of signatories on the petition, so it is important that I speak for them.

I heard what the Minister had to say, and I think he gets it. He has taken many a letter from me and from Carol Shanahan, the co-owner and chair of Port Vale football club, on this issue. Having heard the debate, the Minister is fully aware that we are united—something that is quite rare in this place—in wanting fans back in football stadiums. I want to make it clear for the record that I expect an announcement that as of 2 December, fans are coming back into football stadiums. That is for the mental health and wellbeing of residents in my constituency. It will allow them to communicate with others in socially distanced crowds, and to get their passion back. Sitting in a living-room chair will never replicate the adrenaline rush that is felt in a football stadium, so we have to see fans back in football stadiums.

I absolutely agree that we do not want taxpayers’ money bailing out elite football. As I said in my speech, I implore the Premier League and the EFL to come to a conclusion. I absolutely agree with the Minister on that point, and I hope we will get to a compromise position for both. One way that we could help clubs is by allowing them to start to bring in some revenue. As I said, Port Vale football club has lost £1.5 million in revenue since March, which is an extreme amount of money for a league two club—especially when that club’s mother town is Burslem, which unfortunately has more closed high street shops than almost anywhere in the UK. Our small cafés and restaurants rely heavily on match day attendance and revenue. Rejuvenating Burslem relies on a positive, crowd-friendly atmosphere at Port Vale football club.

The shadow Minister, Alison McGovern, made the perfect point that football crowds are some of the most regulated in the country. They are willing to go above and beyond, as the pilot showed. Hand sanitisation, social distancing, wearing a face mask, Test and Trace—whatever they need to do, they will do it. I know the Minister has some influence, but he needs to kick down the door to No. 10 to make the point heard. At the end of the day, this is the working man’s game.