Middlesbrough among 10 EFL matches to pilot 1,000 spectators

Three Championship matches, four games in League One and three in League Two will have crowds this weekend

Middlesbrough's Marcus Tavernier (second left) celebrates scoring his side's fourth goal of the game with his teammates during the Carabao Cup first round match at Riverside Stadium
Middlesbrough will be allowed 1,000 fans inside their 34,000-seat stadium Credit: PA

Middlesbrough's 34,000-capacity Riverside Stadium is among 10 matches to pilot 1,000 spectators this weekend as part of attempts by the English Football League to ensure the Government sticks with its Oct 1 plan to get crowds back.

The pilots - which include three Championship matches, four games in League One and three in League Two - were confirmed just days after the Premier League dismissed the current limits as a loss-making exercise.

However, with dramatically less TV money in the lower tiers, the EFL is ready to accept that it may have to put up with such low numbers at matches while Covid-19 rates surge again.

The involvement of Norwich's 27,000-capacity Carrow Road, as well as Middlebrough, were described by one source close to talks as a "leap of faith" to Whitehall that clubs would do everything in their powers to make the current timetable work.

Announcing the list of games taking part this weekend, Rick Parry, chairman of the EFL, said it was "encouraging that we are in a position to move forward with the next phase of the pilot programme".

“The health and well-being of supporters and their wider communities remains the priority, but as we showed at Cambridge, social distancing can be applied safely," he 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."

It is expected that fans will be asked to wear masks at matches after Cambridge did so at their pilot match. Oliver Dowden, the Culture Secretary, was also meeting with sporting chiefs on Wednesday to discuss plans for October.

In relation to EFL announcement, Mr 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."

With Boris Johnson last week introducing restrictions on all pilots to just 1,000, hope is fading that the likes of Sunderland's 49,000-capacity Stadium of Light will be a third full next month as previously planned. With Covid-19 now at its highest rate since May, plans for limits of less than 3,000 across venues have been mooted as part of a staggered return to potential 30 per cent attendances.

Such a position is at odds with the Premier League, which on Friday led an outspoken attack on Government's "heavily loss-making" new crowd restrictions. The world's most lucrative domestic competitions has ruled out involvement in pilots until spectator limits are eased again.

Telegraph Sport disclosed on Monday how the EFL wants a £22million bail-out from the Premier League for every month that the season continues without supporters. On Tuesday, in a letter to clubs, the league laid bare how it will lose another £200million if crowds do not return this season.