Green light for non-league return to play

LOCAL non-league clubs have welcomed news that the new season has been given the green light to return.

Clubs in steps three and four, which include Northern Premier League sides Hyde United, Stalybridge Celtic and Mossley, can kick off their campaigns on September 19.

They can also play pre-season friendlies from August with competitive training now permitted, though with groups limited to 30 people. Previously it has been in groups of six with social distancing to be observed.

The devil remains in the detail, however, and discussions have yet to take place about the return of spectators, something vital for grassroots clubs.

This is recognised by the Football Association who said in their latest guidance: “Gatherings of more than 30 people are not permitted while social distancing.

“Therefore, clubs are unable to have gatherings or spectators of any size at this time for any matches or training. We are currently working with DCMS (Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport) and other key stakeholders to understand the timescale for the return to spectators at sporting events.

“Initial discussions have identified that it will be difficult to return to competitive matches without the ability to welcome some form of spectators to matches. There is no current available or formal guidance.

“The following guidance is designed to provide clubs with suggested considerations to prepare for spectators based on social distancing. We strongly urge clubs to give this some thought now in order to move forward when guidance becomes available.”

Stalybridge Celtic secretary Andrew Betts believes clubs may be restricted to 25 per cent of capacity.

In Celtic’s case the club is licenced for 6,000 so would be able to admit 1,500 which is far higher than average crowds which usually number about 400.

Rob Gorski, Celtic chairman and majority shareholder, said: “All we were asking for was clarity which we have.

“Now we can put firm plans in place and plan financially knowing the season will start in September and arrange friendlies in August.”

Mossley vice-chairman Callum Irving described it as “very positive news”.

“At last it looks as though there is some light at the end of the tunnel,” he said.

The new guidance from the FA comes with protocols to mitigate the transmission risk of Covid-19.
On the pitch, these include no goal celebrations and disinfecting of equipment.

James Kendall, director of football development at the FA, said: “The past few months have been some of the most challenging times not just for football, but across society, and this news will be welcomed by the grassroots football community all over the country.

“Now that we are able to look ahead to the new season, it’s crucial that we continue to do all we can to follow safety measures, both as advised by the Government and specifically for football.”

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