The announcement from Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Monday came as no surprise, but it was still a sobering moment when it was confirmed that a return of fans before the end of this season is now unlikely.
But subsequent reports suggested that test events could be a possibility and, as we know, Brunton Park has been at the forefront of that kind of thing almost from the moment the first opportunity arose at the beginning of the campaign.
Chief executive Nigel Clibbens confirmed yesterday that the club is ready once again to take part in a pilot scheme, with the games pre-Christmas having been such a success.
“All along, we’ve wanted to get our fans back in at the earliest opportunity, so if that comes along we’d obviously look at it again,” he said. “We’re still waiting on more information because the way things are phrased at the moment means that it’s all slightly unclear.
“There was talk about pilots in April, but the FA have said they’ll use the FA Cup final as a pilot, so it’s a bit unclear as to how those pilots will be worked out. Whether they’d be at club level or bigger events.
“The other thing is what are they pilots for? The season will be just about finished at that point, so what are we having a pilot for ... is it for how we’re going to run socially distanced games in the 2021/22 season?
“That is more interesting for me, are we being sent a message to expect socially distanced games next season. I think that is the subtle message that comes from it, but I might be wrong, and that’s why we need more information. At the moment I’m looking at next season wondering whether we’ll be able to have the numbers we might want.”
What the run of games in December did demonstrate was that the systems for ensuring safety and compliance were robust, and they could be activated with very little notice required.
“We had a zoom audit on Tuesday from the Safety Authority and they wanted an update on what we’re doing inside the stadium, even though we can’t have fans now in terms of player compliance and things like that,” he explained. “They’re happy that we’ve had our pilot and they’re happy with how that went, and they aren’t expecting to come back to Brunton Park any time soon.
“We’re ready to go again and if we were allowed fans we could put a game similar to Bolton on pretty quickly. It’s what happens with new rules going forward that clubs will be looking at, and what it means for 2021/22 in particular.”
As with any announcement from the government, a fog of information suddenly appears, with some claims being made that attendance at live sporting venues will require some kind of vaccine passport.
“I’ve got no idea if that will be the case,” he commented. “In the past the government has said that under no circumstances will your social liberties be restricted by forcing people to have a jab.
“We don’t know, it’s early days with all of this. Being honest, we’re not expecting to see fans at any of our games this season, then we need to see what happens for next season.”
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