Throughout what turned into an extensive and in-depth 88-minute interview with chief executive Nigel Clibbens on Monday afternoon it became abundantly clear that safety was the buzzword within every area of club operations.
“That’s been the case since late February when we sat and had discussions around the table about what we needed to do in case this thing [Covid-18] arrived,” he said. “That’s just continuing. The way it works now, as time has gone on, is that the club has been given guidelines as to the way it can operate.
“We’ve had guidelines for small groups training, bigger groups contact training, games behind closed doors, academy football and, now, we have them for potentially bringing fans into the stadium.
“The guidance we’re getting is developing all the time but it’s getting more and more prescriptive as to what we must do. It’s a challenge, but if we’d done everything we thought we might have needed to do two months ago it would all be redundant now.
“That’s why I think we’ve done this the right way round, and the approach we’ve taken is that when things are as certain as they can be that they actually need to be done, that’s when we’ll do them.
“There’s enough time to wait and get things right rather than us guessing and finding that it’s all been a waste of time.”
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In terms of working with the local Safety Advisory Group, he told us: “Normally, around May time, we’d start preparing for the renewal of the licence, getting the required safety work done and any repairs done.
“The experts come in and they test everything, check that it’s all as it should be, which builds up to a SAG meeting in June time where we would get our licence for the next year. That hasn’t changed, it’s just the timing that’s been moved.
“What form the SAG approval will take now remains to be seen. Back in March it didn’t look like there’d be a meeting at all but, as we’ve seen, the situation has changed.”
“As I say, we now have guidelines on socially distancing fans within a stadium, which is 85 pages long, and that tells us what we have to do to be allowed to bring fans into Brunton Park in October,” he continued.
“It’s that detail we’re looking at now and, even though these rules are in a draft form, I don’t think they’ll change. Fans might have seen there was a test game at the Oval for a Championship cricket game, where they had a thousand people in, and they’re working to exactly the same rules as we are.
“There are going to be some test football matches as well, to see how that might work. As I was on my way to Carlisle on Monday morning there was an interview with the chief of the sports ground safety authority on Radio 4 and he was talking about what had happened at the Oval.
“He was looking at lessons to be learned and he made a real point about the fact that fans themselves have to take responsibility and decide whether coming to a football match, faced with the restrictions or arrangements they’re going to be faced with, is something they should be doing.
“He feels they shouldn’t just be thinking about getting a ticket and going to a game, they should be asking themselves if they really should be going in the first place. Does the personal risk or the situation they face within their family mean they should be going, or should they be watching it on iFollow?”
“His next point was that clubs may need to reconfigure their grounds to try and get social distancing in correctly,” he commented. “That will be very much down to us and how we can demonstrate to our local safety team that we’re complying with the guidance, and that we’re providing as safe an environment as we can.
“That will be about things like how we get fans in and out of the stadium, hospitality areas, queuing for toilets, buying tickets and things like that.”
CHIEF EXEC: Within this period of restricted capacities the club is going to have to take the lead28 July 2020
“The third thing was that his guidance recommends that fans don’t cheer or shout and that kind of thing,” he told us. “The question was how realistic that is, and the guy said it maybe wasn’t realistic, but he can only suggest best practice.
“How we can deal with that remains to be seen, but he specifically mentioned masks. Without pre-empting where these debates are going, it wouldn’t surprise me if all supporters, when they’re allowed into stadiums, have to wear a mask.
“The other thing he mentioned was that fans will need to work with clubs and embrace the new situation. It will be very different, and fans need to play their part.
“If the guidance says you have to stand in a certain square in the Paddock, fans will have to do that. If fans have to arrive at a certain time, fans will have to do that for the good of everybody.
“Otherwise, we’ll be faced with the risk level going up and the capacity going down. It’s in everybody’s best interest to do things as best we can to get through this.
“People may not be able to stand or sit in their normal place, or have the flexibility to stand at the other end of the Paddock for the second half, for example, as they normally might. These things will all come out in the wash, but we’ve got to be prepared for it if we want to watch live football.”
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