The wait for some is almost over

I’m not sure as I write this which I am more pleased about following the government’s decision on Monday to definitely release us from a second lockdown on 2nd December, coincidently my birthday, the fact I may well be able to attend a National League football match or the fact I can resume writing programme columns and even think about trying to get some more clubs on board.

No one can deny this hasn’t been the year for very much, granted this blog has been outstanding to write and to see the viewing figures and visitors on a daily, weekly, monthly basis has been the one shining light through 2020.

As most of you reading will know I backed the #LetFansIn campaign way back at the end of summertime, started by Dorking Wanderers and taken on by the many. Whilst at Steps 3-6 we saw supporters from the first game of the season in September the promise of that for the National League ‘elite’ from 1st October was dashed away just days before reality.

Now as we head into December and dependant upon what tier they decide your club’s area will fall into, some fans should be watching top level non-league football for the first time this season and about time too.

In my opinion there was no reason why a dumbed down version couldn’t have been started from that October date with pilot event numbers of around 1000 fans, whilst I appreciate cases were rising it was no different across the world and especially in Europe where they decided to allow fans into watch and across the pond in the NFL it’s been going on for weeks.

The next few days will doubt be full of speculation as to whether you will indeed be watching your National League team in person or still via a stream. Not everyone will be comfortable in attending, it should be down to personal risk and your own choice whether you decide football is safe enough for you, if not I hope clubs persist with streaming games, its vital for a lot of people’s mental health to be able to watch their team in some shape or form.

Despite allowing fans back in, some clubs are going to be under capacity for what they would normally be allowed across a standard season, this however is the start and unlike Steps 3-6 where it was a one size fits all for levels 3&4 and for 5&6 regardless of your average support, the NL has put it together on a club by club capacity basis.

I believe there should be a re-think of the levels allowed now for the rest of non-league football. There are a few clubs who hit the 600 and 300 maximum mark a few times during the opening two months. I’m not suggesting we go crazy here and make it almost a free for all, but we’re in the open air, transmission levels we know are much lower and there is space to social distance. I believe allowing an increase of 200 on those levels would be enough to allow more income into these clubs which has been sadly lacking since March.

Most clubs will not hit these figures especially if some of those who have been taking in games after not being able to watch their own team in action decide to return to those clubs.

The next question will be away fans or not? Whilst it would make things easier to police for a lot of clubs would it be detrimental to the action on the pitch? And by that I mean if the home side is not in the ascendancy and their fans start to get on the player’s backs then advantage to the away team, I’m sure it’s a big discussion point across meetings at this very moment.

I write currently for three clubs, East Preston, and Langney Wanderers in the Southern Combination League and Met Police in the Pitching In Southern League, the latter beginning literally just before lockdown. Two of the three have their own custom written column which changes every home game, no two pieces are the same.

I’m really looking forward to getting back to having deadlines during the week, a bit more normality as I had during September and October. Needless to say there will be plenty to write about as always and with this four week break in proceedings more midweek football to find and write about to keep this blog smashing the figures it keeps doing…….

Now for the National League

The joy returns to many tomorrow afternoon (Saturday) as fans are finally permitted to watch non-league football once again although I am well aware some will have watched their first game since March by the time I’ve finished writing this on Friday evening! The success of the #LetFansIn campaign in just over a week superbly championed by the non-league family finally saw the DCMS cave in and allow fans to be admitted to games which begged the question as to whether between themselves and the FA they had starved clubs at Steps 3-7 of almost four weeks of income.

#FansAreBack is the new slogan although National League clubs are still awaiting to see if they are allowed supporters to view their games which I will come onto later. The excitement over Twitter and Facebook groups, across club pages was clear to see earlier this week and whilst there will be some nervousness about how well this will work it’s clear to see people are ready to watch their team in action once again and clubs are ready to welcome them back.

I appeared on the Worthing FC Rebel Yell Podcast last Sunday evening (available on Spotify to re-listen to) joined by Lee Roberts who covers Rocks Radio for Bognor Regis Town FC and Herne Bay manager Ben Smith, hosted by Peter Vale and James Easton. As Ben pointed out prior to the decision during the week they were confident at the Kent club they could social distance 127 supporters in one stand alone, 360 fans could be accommodated around the perimeter of the pitch, which makes you wonder why we’ve had to wait so long for this decision to be reached.

When the news finally came through I bet one or two club treasurers up and down the country were quietly pleased that although this is the first small step on the way back, income was about to begin trickling in to club coffers once again. As we’ve seen though the FA have stumbled a bit giving these reduced capacities a ‘one fits all’ for each step of football instead of a percentage of each club’s full capacity, bit similar to them saying a Step 5 club is the same as a Step 1 National League club, which of course we all know one is so far removed from each other, beautiful of the games governing body to not recognise the difference.

As I mentioned earlier not all fans are yet back in. The campaign continues for Steps 1 and 2 of non-league football who are considered ‘elite sporting teams’, bizarre really when most of Step 2 are part-time players but considered as elite as a player in both the Football League and Premier League. This evening a groups of cross party MP’s have written to the Secretary of State for Sport reminding them that while the players might be considered elite as they derive income from the game, the clubs do not enjoy the same elite trappings their illustrious neighbours enjoy.

So the drum keeps banging whilst we wait for the National League to be allowed to be treated the same as other non-league clubs, especially as two NL clubs in Dorking Wanderers and Concord Rangers threw their weight behind getting fans back into games, it’s only right they get the same crack of the whip.

We are back!

A new day, a new image and yes fans are back! Within days of the #LetFansIn campaign started by Dorking Wanderers and taken on by a good section of the non-league family backed by around 30 MP’s fans are finally going to be allowed back into football from Step 3 downwards.

Whilst this is great news to be heard for all clubs at those levels, there is still a lack of clarity on Tuesday evening as to what levels will be set for how many people will allowed into a ground. Will it be a blanket percentage? Will be capacity specific? Will it be 100-200 maximum per game? Currently there are no answers and I would anticipate that coming in the next couple of days from the FA and clubs can begin to prepare. I have seen tweets this evening from some clubs that are ready to accept fans back in this week, fantastic if they can.

So what has changed then? It appears that what we were all asking about whether non-league football was considered ‘elite’ sport has finally been answered in respect that it isn’t in that classification. The DCMS regulations state stadiums that hold either 10000 plus or 5000 plus are deemed elite venues, which of course from Step 3 downwards a huge majority won’t even fall under the latter, so have the game’s governing body misread or misinterpreted this from the past few weeks?

To me it does look as if they have, and if that is correct then they have cost their member clubs quite a bit of much needed cash over the past three or four weeks. Not that they can redeem themselves too much if this is the case, they do however need to work quickly to clarify the numbers above so everyone knows what they are working towards, a little bit of patience is going to be the key here to allow clubs to feel confident they have enough days to be ready to put things into practise. I think the latest date a club can be aiming for is FA Cup day on 1st September, can you imagine what a Tuesday night that will be if it’s re-opening night for a lot of clubs, just fantastic!

Obviously we would want to be in the stands and on the terraces in the next thirteen days, but we’ve waited long enough, we’ve got our wish to be back and it will happen soon enough. There will be those who still believe it’s not safe for football to re-open, I’ve seen volunteers saying it’s not safe. But if we wait any longer you won’t have a club to volunteer at because it can’t survive with no income to pay the bills, not much of a choice there.

If you as a fan think it’s not safe to attend, thats personal choice and is to be respected, but please remember your fellow fans want to go, they see 300 people allowed to watch a sporting event inside without wearing masks but not allowed outside with less people than that in very open spaces and as science has said less chance of transmission outside than inside so to most there is no logic why football can’t re-open.

I hope that eventually everyone feel safe to go and watch a football match once again, these have been very testing, very hard and very emotional times for reasons none of us could ever have expected to see across the world, better times are coming but we don’t forget those that we have lost over the last five months…………..