The English Football League is seeking an urgent resolution to its £250million coronavirus bailout talks with the Premier League amid fears the Government cap on crowds at sporting events would see clubs go bust before Christmas.
A meeting on Wednesday between governing bodies of the country’s major sports and Oliver Dowden, the Culture Secretary, gave EFL chiefs no indication when ministers would allow supporters to attend matches in much larger numbers than the maximum 1,000 imposed following a spike in Covid-19 cases.
As disclosed by Telegraph Sport, the EFL wants a £22m bailout from the Premier League for every month of football behind closed doors and Wednesday’s meeting prompted it to begin lobbying the world’s richest league even harder for financial assistance.
The EFL has a watch-list of clubs in danger of folding, one Macclesfield Town had been on before their relegation at the end of last season, and it fears others could soon follow the National League newcomers into liquidation.
EFL chiefs are hoping staging more pilot events safely will convince the Government to allow clubs to stage games at 25-35 per cent capacity while social distancing remains in force – as had been the plan from October 1 until last week.
Middlesbrough’s 34,000-capacity Riverside Stadium was among 10 venues announced as having been approved for a pilot of up to 1,000 fans this weekend. The involvement of Boro’s home ground and Norwich City’s 27,000-capacity Carrow Road was described by one source close to talks as a “leap of faith” to show Whitehall that clubs would do everything in their power to resurrect the original timetable.
Announcing the list of games taking part this weekend, EFL chairman Rick Parry said: “By extending across more EFL clubs, we hope to further demonstrate that the measures developed can allow fans to return in greater numbers from as early as next month.”
Dowden said: “I know that many fans are eager to return to football and that jobs depend on this too, so fans will welcome news that the EFL will be running number capped, Covid-secure, and socially distanced pilots this weekend. This will help us build the evidence base to see how we can return fans safely in greater numbers as soon as it is safe to do so.”
Wednesday’s meeting saw all sports impress upon Dowden the looming financial catastrophe that awaited them if they were not soon able to welcome back spectators in their tens of thousands.
They said in a joint statement: “We conveyed to the Secretary of State the very serious financial situation now facing our sports, clubs and venues and that we believe we can stage events safely. It is clear that if fans cannot return soon that there will be very serious economic implications across our sporting sector.
“Our sports have already demonstrated through staging fixtures behind closed doors, in test events and through the return of recreational sport that we can deliver the very highest standards in safety and best practice.”
More pilots in both rugby union and rugby league are expected to be announced in the coming days.