Ipswich Town’s planned crowd trial is scuppered by Government announcement

Ipswich Town have already played four competitive games in front of empty stands. Photo: Steve Walle

Ipswich Town have already played four competitive games in front of empty stands. Photo: Steve Waller - Credit: Picture: Steve Waller

Ipswich Town’s plans to run Saturday’s home game with Rochdale as a test event have been scuppered by the Government’s increased Covid-19 restrictions.

The Blues had long targeted this weekend as the first time which they would be able to welcome fans back inside Portman Road since March 7.

A mountain of paper work was completed, the Safety and Advisory Group (SAG) gave the green light yesterday after inspecting the ground and it looked likely that the EFL would rubber stamp an application for the Blues to be among the latest batch of clubs permitted to allow 1,000 socially-distanced supporters through the gates.

That, it was hoped, would prove to be the first step towards being able to increase attendances at the start of October.

All that has been put on hold, however, after the government upped the Covid-19 alert level from three to four, meaning transmission of the virus is now “high or rising exponentially”.

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There were planned crowd trials for the British Speedway Final at Ipswich’s Foxhall Stadium on Saturday, as well three meetings at Newmarket Race Course from Thursday to Saturday, with it not yet clear how those events will be affected.

Speaking on BBC Breakfast, Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove said: “It was the case that we were looking at a staged programme of more people returning (to sporting events) – though it wasn’t the case that we were going to have stadiums thronged with fans – but now we’re looking to see how we can pause that programme.

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“We want to make sure that, as and when circumstances allow, we get more people back. You make a fair point, the virus is less likely to spread outdoors than indoors. But it’s also in the nature of sports that there’s a lot of mingling.

“You look back now at the start of the pandemic and some of the major sporting events that were staged and ask the question ‘why were they allowed to go ahead?’ One of the things we must do now, whatever the wisdom of decisions made then, is to look at sporting events now with caution.

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“Of course we also recognise that sports are a vital part of the life of this nation and we’re looking at everything we can do to support our athletes and great clubs throughout what will be a challenging time.”

This latest set-back for fans returning to stadiums could leave many lower league clubs in a perilous financial position.

League One and Two clubs voted by a clear majority to prematurely end last season due to the fact they were unable to raise crucial matchday revenue and there could be serious ramifications if behind-closed-doors football is to remain in place for the foreseeable future.

Ipswich Town were among the few who did vote to play on back in June, and are better placed than many to navigate these choppy waters, but owner Marcus Evans, whose corporate hospitality business has been badly hit, won’t be able to fill the financial black hole indefinitely.

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Kevin Miles, the chief executive of the Football Supporters’ Association, said: “The FSA has written to the government to stress how important it is that we start to allow fans back into games.

“Feedback from our members at test events has confirmed high levels of compliance with all the health and safety measures put in place, and that they felt safer at games than they have done in many other social situations.

“Having fans at games is of course not only important to the lives of supporters, it is also crucial to the survival of so many clubs who play a crucial role within their communities. A combination of revenue at the ground and government support is urgently needed to keep clubs going. The government has to listen to fans and football clubs on this one.”

Julian Knight, the chair of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) committee, expressed his concern at the announcement from Gove.

He wrote on Twitter: “If we don’t find a route map with smart solutions to allow sports and live events to gradually reopen, we risk decimation of our sporting and cultural infrastructure.”

The EFL remains locked in negotiations with both the Premier League and the government regarding a multi-million pound rescue package.

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