"We're doing all we can!" Northamptonshire clubs' plea over health chief's "stay away" message to fans

"Most clubs at our level and below couldn't survive playing behind closed doors," warns Rushden vice-chairman

Wednesday, 21st October 2020, 2:00 pm

Local football clubs fear they will be forced out of business if Public Health officials close grounds to fans in Northamptonshire.

The FA hatched a deal in August with Government to allow spectators to watch matches in leagues involving AFC Rushden & Diamonds, Corby Town and Daventry Town plus 13 more county clubs in other leagues.

Public Health Director Lucy Wightman issued a recommendation for spectators to consider staying away from games two weeks ago in response to spiking numbers of new coronavirus cases in the county.

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The plea has so far fallen on deaf ears with attendances unaffected and Mrs Wightman said she is considering further action.

But Rushden & Diamonds vice-chairman Jon Ward insists clubs are doing all they can.

He said: "We're doing exactly what's been asked of us, and in some cases even more.

"We put together a 103-page coronavirus plan and volunteers have spent a lot of time and put so much effort into making the ground Covid compliant.

More than 400 fans watched Rusdhen & Diamonds beat Bromsgrove last Saturday. Photo: Pictures Hawkins Images Photography

"Clubs have been allowed to have one-third of their usual capacity into grounds but we went even further than that. We could have had 600 but instead we set the limit at 450 — even though we could have sold more.

"We're walking around the ground all the time to make sure fans stick to the rule of six and maintain social distance.

"So we're trying to take a responsible approach and putting supporters' health before any profit."

NOW READ THIS: No backing down by Health chiefs over pleas for footy fans to stay at homeMrs Wightman's recommendation came as a shock to clubs when it was delivered just 24 hours before they were due to play.

Mr Ward added: "We saw the advice and our chairman Ralph Burditt reached out to Lucy Wightman. We're still in conversation with her and the Public Health department and if there's anything they advise that we can do better than we will listen."

Rushden, Corby and Daventry all play in the Southern League while a dozen more teams around the county operate in the United Counties League, where fans are also allowed in.

Fans are banned at Football League and National League matches — including at Northampton Town, Kettering Town and Brackley — but clubs are helped by financial packages.

Mr Ward said: "It's been difficult enough financially with all the extra arrangements we've had to put in place.

"Most clubs at our level and below couldn't survive playing behind closed doors without the financial package clubs higher up the pyramid have got."