Ten football matches across England will allow 1,000 fans in this weekend – despite coronavirus lockdown measures increasing across the country.
The English Football League have announced 10 teams, including three in the second-tier Championship at Norwich, Middlesbrough and Luton, have permission to host pilot events for the return of fans.
The news comes as part of the government’s plans to allow increasing numbers of spectators into the return of sports’ crowds – although it appears to be at odds with the country-wide crackdown on the ‘rule of six’.
Carrow Road in Norwich is one of 10 EFL venues that will host pilot events this Saturday in which a maximum of 1,000 spectators will be admitted
The latest pilot events follow a successful trial at Cambridge’s Abbey Stadium last week
The announcement came despite ministers and government officials warning of an even tougher lockdown within a fortnight unless the ‘rule of six’ brings down new coronavirus infections.
Options on the table could range from curfews to closing pubs but that hasn’t stopped the authorities pushing on with Saturday’s pilot events.
Three games have been picked in the Sky Bet Championship – Luton Town vs Derby County at Kenilworth Road, Norwich City vs Preston North End at Carrow Road and Middlesbrough vs Bournemouth at the Riverside Stadium.
The League One matches at Charlton, Blackpool, Shrewsbury Town and Hull City, plus the League Two games at Forest Green Rovers, Carlisle United and Morecambe, have also been selected.
These 10 games will be the first in the three EFL divisions since March to admit fans.
Fans reacted with anger and bewilderment at the decision to allow 1,000 fans in to the games
862 fans attended the EFL Trophy game at Cambridge last week and were required to socially distance in the stands.
The venues have been chosen because they are located in areas not currently subject to coronavirus lockdown restrictions.
But the announcement is at odds with this week’s Government restrictions, which prohibit gatherings of more than six people.
Fans reacted with anger and bewilderment at the EFL decision, especially in light of the ‘rule of six’ introduced on Monday.
Malcolm Wood wrote on Twitter: ‘You can’t be together in no more than six, so let’s go to the footy. Where is the joined up thinking!!!’
Middlesbrough’s Riverside Stadium will welcome crowds for the first time since March
1,000 spectators will be allowed at Kenilworth Road in Luton for their game against Derby
Twitter user WWmick wrote: ‘England and Scotland have reduced the number of people allowed to meet socially to six. So I cannot meet with family yet EFL can allow a group of 1000. How is this sane or fair?’
A Twitter user called Caitlin said: ‘The rule of SIX they said. Can’t meet up with my family but a thousand of us can rock up to a football match. Get a f***ing grip. What utter b*******.’
Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder also expressed his bemusement that fans were being allowed back into stadiums amid the continued lockdown.
He said: ‘I just don’t know where we are with it all, I’ve got to say. I haven’t got a clue.
‘Am I allowed to see my nan? Am I allowed to see my mum? But then we can have 1,000 people in a ground but then we can’t have 15,000 and then I can’t go and have a pint with my mates unless there’s only six of us.
Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder was left bewildered by the latest announcement
‘So I’ve got to say I’m like the majority of people in this country have not got a clue what’s going off… haven’t got a clue.
EFL Pilot matches
Saturday 3pm unless stated
Luton Town v Derby County
Norwich City v Preston North End
Middlesbrough v AFC Bournemouth
Blackpool v Swindon Town
Charlton Athletic v Doncaster Rovers
Shrewsbury v Northampton
Hull City v Crewe Alexandra
Forest Green Rovers v Bradford City
Carlisle v Southend (1pm)
Morecambe v Cambridge United
‘If anybody can help me. I’ll try and affect that game of football and with the staff and boys in getting a result but everything else, all that other stuff, I ain’t got a clue.’
EFL clubs in safe areas had been invited to put in requests to host fans by Tuesday ahead of Wednesday’s meeting.
It’s likely the host clubs will hold a ballot of season ticket holders and members to determine who can attend.
Last week the Government restricted sport pilot events to 1,000 fans and said that plans to have stadiums back to a third of their capacity by October 1 would be reviewed.
EFL chairman, Rick Parry said: ‘It’s encouraging that we are in a position to move forward with the next phase of the pilot programme and give a small number of our Clubs the opportunity to welcome back up to a 1,000 fans this week.
‘The health and well-being of supporters and their wider communities remains the priority, but as we showed at Cambridge, social distancing can be applied safely.
‘By extending across more EFL Clubs we hope to further demonstrate that the measures developed can allow fans to return in greater numbers from as early as next month.
‘The requirement to welcome spectators back through turnstiles has not diminished in any way, the financial challenges facing EFL Clubs have been explained on numerous occasions, they are substantial and a problem that requires immediate solutions.’
Culture Secretary, Oliver Dowden said: ‘I know that many fans are eager to return to football and that jobs depend on this too, so fans will welcome news that the EFL will be running number capped, covid secure, and socially distanced pilots this weekend.
‘This will help us build the evidence base to see how we can return fans safely in greater numbers as soon as it is safe to do so.’