The Pompey Supporters’ Trust today joins Portsmouth Football Club and its CEO, Mark Catlin, in calling on the Government to trust football fans, clubs, local Safety Advisory Groups (SAGs) and the Sports Ground Safety Authority (SGSA) to allow fans back into stadiums, and has written to both Portsmouth MPs accordingly.
Football clubs up and down the country are on the brink of an abyss. Leagues 1, 2 and the National Leagues are reliant on fan attendances for the majority of their income which, due to the Government’s policies is now zero. The season restarted with an expectation, facilitated by Government, that fans would be allowed into stadiums by October, which was dashed by the Prime Minister a few weeks ago.
And yet, as citizens, we are trusted to assess the risk to our health in going to the cinema or theatre, sitting on an airplane, going to pubs or restaurants. But we apparently cannot be trusted to assess the risk in going to a football match, sitting in the open air, socially distanced from other fans. We are led to believe that there are concerns about fans travelling to games safely, but those same risks exist on masses of people travelling to airports or shopping centres.
It simply appears that football outside the Premier League has been chosen by the Government as the business that can be sacrificed in the current crisis.
The PST has discussed with Portsmouth Football Club how it planned to operate match days. We know our stadium and can see how it can easily be configured to enable one-way movement and social distancing. Our local SAG, comprising of the club, fan representatives, our local council and emergency services are the best placed body to assess the risks on travel and attendance and make recommendations for how football can safely resume, aided by guidance from the SGSA. Football clubs have been managing crowds for decades and fans are very familiar with operating in controlled environments and following the directions of stewards.
We, at Pompey, are in a fortunate position. Our owners, the Tornante Company and the Eisner family have committed to supporting the club through this crisis, which we are grateful for. We remain debt free and have continued the sustainable operation that fan ownership brought into the club after years of mismanagement. Pompey have tried to do the right thing for their fans – we haven’t been asked to pay for a full season ticket, consultation with the PST and other fan groups has been consistently sought. However, scores of clubs are not in such a fortunate position.
The Government are pressuring the Premier League into bailing out the EFL, but for all the riches in the Premier League they simply cannot afford to rescue all 72 EFL clubs and play a full season – the bill would be too large and even so, who knows what strings the Premier League would attach to this bailout. And, in any event, this does not address the impact that the ban on fan attendance is having on the National League and our friends at Havant and Waterlooville, for example.
Many clubs are on the brink of collapse and unless a solution is found within the next 3-4 weeks we fear the collapse of Leagues 1, 2 and the National Leagues and the loss of a focal point in dozens of communities across the nation.
The Government has spent billions bailing out the arts sector, providing loans and grants to businesses and charities. Although this crisis does not have to mean spending public money on an industry that is often wasteful and dysfunctional. But if it does, then there is a plan presented by Damian Collins MP that would ensure that if public money is provided, then it is spent wisely for the survival of clubs and not to bail out profligate owners. We would also very much like to see the Government deliver their manifesto commitment for a fan-led review of football governance.
For now, however, all we are asking is that football fans be given the same opportunity as the patrons of cinemas or theatres – the opportunity to support our clubs financially by attending games. Let fans save their clubs by supporting them.
The choice is simple – either let the fans back in or provide the financial support. If it chooses to do neither, then this Government risks being responsible for killing many clubs and irreparably damaging the game.