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Mark Heath: Football is nothing without fans - so let them back in, Boris

EADT and Ipswich Star sports editor Mark Heath argues that Boris Johnson should let small numbers of football fans back into games Picture: ARCHANT/PA

EADT and Ipswich Star sports editor Mark Heath argues that Boris Johnson should let small numbers of football fans back into games Picture: ARCHANT/PA

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EADT and Ipswich Star sports editor Mark Heath pens an open letter to Prime Minister Boris Johnson about the ongoing exclusion of fans from football...

Ipswich Town fans haven't been allowed at Portman Road since March. Picture: STEVE WALLERIpswich Town fans haven't been allowed at Portman Road since March. Picture: STEVE WALLER

Dear Boris,

I don’t know you, but from what I’ve been able to glean, you’re a big fan of all things British - good old-fashioned British values, the honest British pint, and the common sense of the great British public, to name but a few.

Admirable, all. Why is it, then, that you’re allowing another bastion of Britishness - the beautiful game – to take such a kicking?

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Listen, I know these are unprecedented times. The coronavirus pandemic is a terrible and terrifying threat to us all. I’ve had young, healthy members of my own family hospitalised by it, so I’m certainly not one of those increasing number who thinks we should just carry on as before. That is nonsense.

But the message is so confusing - and, when it comes to football, just plain unfair.

As I understand it, I can book now to go and watch a show at the Royal Albert Hall or Royal Opera House over Christmas. I can also buy a ticket and take my place alongside some 4,700 fans at the O2 Arena in December to watch Squeeze.

Three fine British entertainment venues, and it’s superb to see them welcoming folks back. It’s excellent, too, that I can go to a pub with five pals and sit inside, with plenty of other folk around us, while we enjoy some of those great British pints. I can go to the cinema too, or sit on a plane for 15 hours, if I fancy it.

The only fans at Portman Road so far this season have been cardboard cut-outs Picture: STEVE WALLERThe only fans at Portman Road so far this season have been cardboard cut-outs Picture: STEVE WALLER

But I’m led to believe that all the above, being inside, actually pose more threat to my health than outdoor pursuits. Grouse shooting, with 29 close friends, for example, would be much safer.

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Sadly though, grouse shooting just isn’t my bag. Nope, I’d much rather be given the chance to return - in a safe, socially-distanced manner – to watch football, outside, in a Covid-secure environment. Wearing a mask and a visor, if need be. Hundreds of thousands of others, across Great Britain, would love that chance too. So why can’t we? That’s the problem - it doesn’t make sense.

Clearly, many things are more important than football, and sport. Our health and safety tops that list and, if entertainment venues across the country were shut and deemed unsafe, no problem at all. Fans at football would be out of the question. That makes sense.

Fans are the beating heart of Ipswich Town - and all the other clubs around the country. Picture: STEVE WALLERFans are the beating heart of Ipswich Town - and all the other clubs around the country. Picture: STEVE WALLER

Yet, as it stands, the situation is baffling.

We know it can be done safely. A range of pilot events across all sports - including down the road at Cambridge and Norwich – have shown that. Ipswich Town have passed their assessment, and were all set to welcome fans back too, until that all got paused.

It’s not just that fans want to return, either - football, and businesses across the country, needs them to.

You’re a fan of bigging up the great British economy, rightly so. It’s taking one hell of a beating at the moment, football included. Something must be done.

Getting fans back to football, even in small numbers, would be a huge boost to the economies of towns and cities across our great country. We’re told that city centres are dying. Well, give them a shot in the arm of hungry and thirsty football fans every other Saturday and Tuesday night, and that will help.

Football clubs too, are dying. Without fans actually at games, spending money and bringing cheer, there’s only so long that clubs can survive, especially in the lower tiers. Fans are their beating heart, and right now many are on life support.

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If they start dying in numbers, so, too, will the local economies that rely on them. Jobs will go, years of history will be forgotten and Covid-19 will have claimed yet more victims.

No-one is suggesting that fans should be allowed back in huge numbers. No-one is suggesting that there isn’t a risk involved. But let folks make their own decisions, use that great British common sense you’re so fond of.

Football is nothing without fans. You have the power to change that.

Do the right thing, Boris. Let the fans back in.

Yours in sport,

Mark


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