The start of the new football season for Southport FC is now under question after the Government reversed its decision to allow some fans back into grounds from October 1.
The Sandgrounders were due to start their season with an FA Cup Second Round Qualifying game next Saturday (October 3), with their first National League North league game against Hereford on Tuesday, October 6.
But speaking to BBC Breakfast yesterday Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove said that plans for a stage return of fans had been “paused”.
Last night, Prime Minister Boris Johnson set out a number of new restrictions designed to reverse the recent rise in Covid-19 cases which he expects to be in place for the next six months. The UK’s Covid-19 alert level has moved this week from 3 to 4, meaning transmission is “high or rising exponentially”.
Southport FC has signed a squad of new players ready for the start of the new season in just a few days’ time, with pre-season preparations nearly complete.
They are looking to meet with National League officials to discover whether the season will start this October without fans in grounds, or will be postponed.
There is a possibility that fans may not be able to return to watch live sporting events in England until the end of March at the earliest.
At a meeting yesterday, sports governing bodies – including those from football, rugby, cricket, Formula 1 and horse racing – were told to prepare for no spectators throughout the winter.
Officials from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) told the meeting, which was attended by Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden, that the ban on fans will be kept under review.
A number of pilot matches allowing some fans into grounds have taken place in recent weeks, but a ban has now been put in place.
Speaking to BBC Breakfast, Michael Gove said: “We were looking at a staged programme of more people returning – it wasn’t going to be the case that we were going to have stadiums thronged with fans,” he said.
“We’re looking at how we can, for the moment, pause that programme, but what we do want to do is to make sure that, as and when circumstances allow, get more people back.
“The virus is less likely to spread outdoors than indoors but again it’s in the nature of major sporting events that there’s a lot of mingling.
“What we must do is look at sporting events now with caution but we also recognise that sport is a vital part of this nation and we’re looking at everything we can do to support our athletes, our great clubs, through what will be a challenging time.”
Julian Knight, the chair of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) select committee, said “if we don’t find a route map with smart solutions to allow sports and live events to gradually reopen, we risk decimation of our sporting and cultural infrastructure”.
The leaders of more than 100 sports bodies have written to the prime minister to ask for emergency funding, warning of a “lost generation of activity” because of coronavirus.