Plans to allow supporters back into football matches, perhaps before the end of the year, are being considered in government.
The proposals could come into effect at the end of the current national lockdown and allow a small number of fans to attend games in areas under tier 1 restrictions, the lightest set of local coronavirus measures.
A concerted campaign, #letfansin, has been conducted by supporters’ groups and clubs in recent weeks after plans for a return at the beginning of October were abandoned.
Clubs, especially lower down the pyramid, are desperate for the revenue provided by matchday tickets. Fans, meanwhile, were aggravated by inconsistencies which allowed people to pay to watch matches in the cinema but not in stadiums. Both sets of concerns have recently been amplified by northern Tory MPs, who represent constituencies that contain many League One and Two clubs, who made the case for a return of fans to the prime minister.
At prime minister’s questions on Wednesday Johnson said in answer to a question from Karl McCartney, the Conservative MP for Lincoln: “I understand the frustration over fans and we hope to get crowds back in the ground as soon as possible.”
Although Johnson is reported to have told his “red wall” MPs that getting fans back would be a top priority when a national English lockdown ends, the idea of an immediate return was met with scepticism in some quarters.
A source at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport dismissed as “speculation” claims that the plans were to be implemented and said a number of proposals had been drawn up regarding the return of fans. England is to remain under national restrictions until 2 December, with a review of those rules not expected until next week.
The idea of a limited return of fans was not discussed at a summit of football leaders on Tuesday. Convened by the culture secretary, Oliver Dowden, the meeting discussed the many crises in the game brought on or brought into focus by the pandemic.
Representatives of the Premier League, EFL, Football Supporters’ Association and Kick it Out gave presentations. The former Football Association chairman David Bernstein presented his plans for a “manifesto for change” and called for the introduction of an independent regulator for football.
The meeting was described by one participant as “relaxed, with no feeling of urgency”. There was no discussion after the presentations and little sense of a common approach going forward.
One tweet from Dowden, posted after the meeting, suggested that the government’s promised fan-led review was about to begin. “Discussions to continue as we start our fan-led review of governance,” he wrote. This message appears to be misleading, however, as it is understood there is no timeframe for the review to get under way and marked resistance to it from other stakeholders.
The FSA noticed the message and responded to Dowden’s tweet. “Thanks to @OliverDowden for today’s invitation,” it wrote. “We reiterated the urgency of starting a fan led review now to the Minister and to the football authorities on the call. In addition we lobbied for the return of supporters to stadiums ASAP. Fans need football and football needs fans.”