United’s match day Covid-19 policies were submitted for EFL approval earlier this week, with the first competitive fixture for the club scheduled for Tuesday night, and good news was received on Friday night when the Blues were given the green light for the EFL Trophy visit of Fleetwood Town.
“We got the official sign-off this morning [Friday] from the EFL,” chief executive Nigel Clibbens confirmed. “We’ve put our plans in place and they’ve all been signed off as acceptable, so that’s really good.
“It’s going to be very different, it’s very restrictive, and the stadium will be going into lockdown essentially from 2 o’clock on Tuesday afternoon.
“That means we won’t allow anybody on site who is not a ‘cleared individual’ as they are being termed. It’s restricted access passes, Red Zones, Amber Zones and all this kind of stuff for the game itself.
“It’ll be a good opportunity for the admin side of the club again to test itself and make sure that we’re ready to go. That’s good, and we’re all set now.”
And, as has been said repeatedly, the only thing missing is possibly the most important aspect of all – the fans.
“All of the fans we’ve had interactions with and who speak to really understand the need for us to close off the stadium area while these guidelines are required,” he said. “They’ve been really helpful and supportive in the way they’ve dealt with us as a club, and in the way they’ve approached the situation.
“The Blues Store will still be open at its normal times, but we’ll have barriers to stop people coming onto the area of the stadium footprint itself. All entry points will be manned by stewards, and they won’t allow unauthorised people to pass, because it’s essentially a secured zone for the duration of the match.”
As for the return of competitive football, he said: “We know the EFL Trophy is seen as controversial, but we value the competition as a club, we think it’s important financially, and we’ve been honest about that.
“It’s a chance for us to get towards Wembley, and we’ve had a great record. For some fans, the presence of academy teams is controversial and there’s no escaping from that, but from a club point of view it’s our first competitive game of the season and we want to win it.
“It seems a heck of a long time since we’ve watched a game, so we’re really excited about it.”
With iFollow the only option for fans who want to watch the game, he explained that a return to spectators within sports arena possibly isn’t as far away as we all thought it might be.
“That could be happening sooner than we initially predicted,” he admitted. “We talk about things changing really quickly, and I think we were sat doing an update last Friday at about 3 o’clock, and it was being prepared to go out that evening, and I got an email with new information at that point.
“At the time we were looking at perhaps Barrow being our first game with fans attending, with us having had one previous league game without any fans at all. Having got that email it informed us that everything might be getting brought forward. Things are quite simply changing all the time.
“For that reason, we’ve continued to hold off on starting the process of taking money for Season Tickets already reserved. I said last week I hoped to be able to say that we were going to draw a line and say it was going to be a 22 or 20 game season ticket, or whatever, and tell people how much it was going to cost, but since then things have been thrown up in the air.
“It could be that everything accelerates and we get fans into games earlier than that October date. Hopefully we’ll have even better news next week about when fans can get in.
“There are test games taking place around the British Isles and hopefully that will mean we can get fans in really soon. Next week should be when we can form a view.
“That will be when we decide what the payments will be, and we can then start the payment process. Back in July the Prime Minister said mid-October which, for us, would have been around 20 games.
“It then kind of moved and Barrow became a game fans could potentially come to, and now we’re looking to see whether it could be even sooner than that. It is really live and always changing, and that’s why we often delay making decisions to give us the maximum chance of getting it right.”
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