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Pressure builds on Government to change non-league guidance

Pressure is building on the Government to update their guidance currently prohibiting the return of fans to non-league football despite other areas of the economy opening up.

Last week the FSA wrote to Secretary of State Oliver Dowden asking for a review of the existing guidelines for non-league and women’s football – arguing that the current limbo threatens the existence of many non-league clubs.

Now former sports minister Tracey Crouch has also intervened, writing to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) today calling for the “urgent return of fans to non-league football”.

Crouch’s letter, co-signed by 30 MPs, said: “Given we are now allowing indoor activities to resume in a COVID-safe way, we simply do not understand why non-league football clubs in outdoor stadia cannot allow their small but loyal fans back in through the gates.

“As representatives of these local clubs we fear that if we don’t do something soon, they will be lost forever.”

Crouch’s intervention follows a busy week of activity from fans of non-league clubs on social media who have been highlighting their plight via the #LetFansIn hashtag – drawing attention to the inconsistencies in the COVID guidelines.

Additionally, a petition on the Government’s website calling for fans to be allowed to watch live non-league football again has surpassed 6,000 signatures at the time of writing.

While other sectors of the sport, leisure and tourism economy are beginning to open up, non-league football has been overlooked.

Head of the national game at the FSA Andy Walsh said: “Public Health must be prioritised but supporters of non-league clubs have expressed their frustration at what has become an extremely illogical situation.

“If the Government believes that spectators can be safely admitted to an indoor event such as the World Snooker Championship why can spectators not be admitted to a football match being played in the outdoors when they can be in the same ground enjoying a drink?

“At present a non-league club can admit supporters to their clubhouse for a drink or a bite to eat but Government guidance would seem to imply that this is not possible if a pre-season friendly is being played outside on the pitch.”

The preliminary round of the FA Cup is due to be played at the beginning of September, and Step 3 and 4 leagues have said that unless the Government changes its guidance by the end of this week (August 21st), plans for the start of non-league season will have to be postponed, jeopardising the future of more clubs.

Earlier this summer in partnership with The Non-League Paper we surveyed more than 7,000 supporters across non-league on their attitudes to returning to live football – and more than three-quarters wanted to return to the match with proper safety measures in place.

Since then, the FSA has been working closely with the FA and leagues to develop protocols for the safe return of supporters to grounds. These protocols include detailed social distancing measures and are backed by published risk assessments at individual grounds.

“Supporter reps and clubs have told us they feel like there’s a lot of conflicting advice out there and a lack of clear guidance,” Andy said. “We urgently need clarity from Government.”

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