Our Chief Executive Joe Palmer has welcomed the news about fans being allowed back into stadiums, but he explained that patience is required to ensure the process is as safe as possible.
Joe’s update is published in full below.
We were all naturally delighted to hear the government’s announcement that limited numbers of fans are to be allowed back into football stadiums. This is great news for the entire game – but especially for us, given how much our supporters deserve to experience our new home.
Our first historic game at Plough Lane wasn’t how we had imagined it and we all know the homecoming won’t be complete until everyone is allowed in.
Having said that, it would be remiss of me not to manage expectations. This is not something that is going to happen by the weekend and I would like to explain why.
First and foremost, the government’s announcement has come completely out of the blue and taken the entire game by surprise, as Rick Parry’s statement echoed last night. None of us – and by that I mean all the EFL clubs – had any expectations, or even a hint, that fans might be allowed back before Christmas.
In fact, as it currently stands, there are only three clubs in the entire country who have the necessary safety certificates to stage games with limited capacities. You may remember that a pilot scheme was launched when 1,000 fans were allowed in (Brighton was one of the clubs involved) but the second lockdown quickly led to that exercise being abandoned.
Purely on protocol grounds, we cannot suddenly stage such a game – as much as we would like to. First, we will need to hold test events, which will be monitored by our local safety advisory group, and then we will need to be issued with safety certificates and secure approval from Merton council.
So far, all our efforts have been concentrated on getting our new stadium to a point where we could physically stage matches under behind closed doors protocols - and that culminated in our first game at Plough Lane against Doncaster. These protocols are still being refined and are set for further review following our next couple of matches.
We also will need to have full stadium completion and handover before any fans may return. There remain areas of our new stadium that need completing, even though we still expect our constructors, Buckingham, to formally hand the stadium over to us on December 7, as scheduled. In normal times, at this point, we would have held a couple of test events, received our safety certificate and then could have started playing in front of full crowds. However, it is unfortunately not as simple as that as a result of Covid-19.
We have already started the SG02 protocol guidelines for allowing limited capacity crowds into stadiums in anticipation of the rules being relaxed in January. These guidelines are considerably more complicated than behind closed doors matches and need considerable planning and liaison with the safety advisory group and local council to make sure everything they require is in place. We also have considerable work to do around the ticketing process, which involves completely rejigging seating layouts and ticketing arrangements, not to mention changing internal layouts and signage to meet protocols. We effectively have to park all the normal operating plans and procedures that we have been drafting for the past six months and start again from scratch.
Now, we have to hit fast forward and get it ready for a limited numbers of fans and while that is exciting and something we dearly want, it is also something we can’t rush, given the forthcoming Christmas holidays and our reliance on other parties to work through the protocols.
Assuming that we will be allowed to let in around 2,000 fans (and this has yet to be confirmed), then I would expect we will be required to stage a test event at circa 1000 fans, which we hope will be one of our home matches in January.
Naturally, we will try our best to speed up the process. But there is a lot of work to be done first, we will not compromise our long-term ability to use the stadium – and we will not take stupid risks when the safety and security of absolutely everyone is at stake.
So, I ask for your patience and understanding. Seeing you in Plough Lane is something we all dearly want and we will do everything in our powers to make it happen as soon as is safely possible.