‘Disappointed but not surprised’: Non-league fans left frustrated by guidance

The last time supporters were allow to enter a non-league ground was back in December, just before the season was brought to a halt. No one had expected to have to wait over 3 months before being told the wait would be longer, but most people had gone to any game they could to ensure they made the most of what was available. I, myself, made the most of the opportunity to see one last game of the year as I attended Brickfield Lane to witness Hadley progress in the FA Vase against Colney Heath.

Everyone was well aware that football would be on hold for 3-weeks, going into the new year but no one had expected to be told in April and only 5-days before the further easing of the National Lockdown, that they would have to wait until May 17th before they could stand on the terraces once again. For many clubs, they had hoped they would only have to go one or two games with supporters, mainly friendlies before they could open the gates and welcome the loyal fans back but this certainly wasn’t the case.

Under the original guidance, organised sport including football was allowed to return on March 29th but spectators were allowed set to be allowed to return on April 12th. That changed on Tuesday as Boris Johnson confirmed that spectators would not be permitted any early than May 17th with the DCMS confirming this in an official statement;

The decision to not allow spectators to return to Step 3-6 of the National League System will surely mean more clubs are left with no choice but to fold as we approach the new season. Many clubs are also preparing to play in the supplementary cup competitions arranged by their respective leagues. This could have been the boost in income many clubs needed with the interest in watching non-league football at it highest due to the break from the game for so long.

The guidance doesn’t stop people ‘viewing’ grassroots football from a public space like a park as the guidance states this can be done in the ‘rule of 6 or two households’ rules but this doesn’t bring income into the clubs.

To combat the problem, many clubs and leagues have looked to live stream the games for a fee as they look to bring in a form of income for the clubs ahead of the new season when spectators will be allowed back into grounds. The Essex Senior League have been one of the first leagues to introduce a live streaming service for their upcoming ‘Len Cordell Memorial Cup’ matches with the first stream coming from Harlow as DTFC host Cockfosters on Saturday. The league have chosen 10-games as a pilot to see how it would work and whether their would be interest with the hope of continuing this through the knockout stage of the competition. Unfortunately, this isn’t possible for all clubs and leagues.

With a month and 9-days left to go before the potential return of fans, the #letfansin has returned and fans of the lower levels have been left frustrated with the decision;

Ridiculous I can’t go to a non-league ground to watch some footy and escape the stress of work but it’s okay next week to go to the indoor Trafford Centre and shop – @SalfordWalshy

17th April. @HebburnTown face @Liversedge_FC currently behind closed doors. While this is taking place, thousands will be hitting the shops over at the MetroCentre. 300-500 spread out in an outdoor setting or thousands together indoors, I know where I’d feel safer – @TheDB30

The hope for many is that Oliver Dowden and the DCMS review the current guidance and change their stance of the safety of watching a game in an open-air stadium. This doesn’t seem likely so fans may have to wait until mid-May before they can once again head through the turnstiles of a non-league ground.