EFL enters ‘critical’ 48 hours in push to get crowds and avoid financial disaster

EFL enters ‘critical’ 48 hours in push to get crowds and avoid financial disaster

Pressure is growing on the government to allow the return of fans to live football, with a leaked letter from the EFL describing the next 48 hours as “critical” in an attempt to stave off financial disaster for clubs.

Plans for a partial return of crowds from 1 October, in all sports, have been put on hold following the recent growth in coronavirus cases across England. But EFL clubs, whose revenues are dependent on getting people through turnstiles, are to continue with pilots this weekend, capped at 1,000 fans, in the hope that the original plans can be enacted.

Brian Barwick, chairman of the National League and former Football Association chief executive, has also called on government to decide in favour of fans returning, with the beginning of its season set for 3 October in the hope that supporters could attend.

The issue is money, with the EFL projecting a £200m loss across its three divisions if fans cannot return this season, roughly £22m per month over the course of the season.

In a letter sent to clubs on Tuesday the EFL’s head of policy, John Nagle, encouraged them to lobby for a reopening, arguing that the necessary procedures have been undertaken to make it safe to do so. “From our various political channels, we now understand that the next 48 hours are likely to be critical in determining the direction of travel on this issue,” Nagle wrote.

A select number of pilot matches are to be a part of this process. A spokesperson for the EFL said the league remained in discussions over the pilot programme, “which may include a limited number of further pilot matches during September with capacity limited to 1,000”.

The spokesperson said: “The league is clear in its view that social distancing can be applied safely in football stadia and that having crowds at matches is an absolutely essential part of helping to protect club finances, which remain under extreme pressure.”

Barwick said in his appeal for a reopening: “The National League restart depends upon crowds being allowed back in stadiums as live attendance is our clubs’ largest source of income. The government urgently needs to set out a credible pathway for the safe return of supporters, and to ensure our football clubs can continue to function, and to perform their significant role in the sporting life of the country.”