'Limited supporter return' boost for non-league – but Hartlepool United blackout continues

North East non-league football clubs have received a boost with the news that the “limited return of home spectators” has been given the go ahead for areas currently under tier three restrictions.

Thursday, 10th December 2020, 6:40 pm
HARTLEPOOL, ENGLAND. DECEMBER 8TH Mark Shelton of Hartlepool United during the Vanarama National League match between Hartlepool United and Kings Lynn Town at Victoria Park, Hartlepool on Tuesday 8th December 2020. (Credit: Mark Fletcher | MI News)

However, clubs will have to reach agreement over capacity limits with their local authorities before permitting supporters to attend.

That means that clubs featuring in the Northern Premier League and Northern League can host a limited number of their own supporters for fixtures over the coming weeks.

The Ebac Northern League are set to review their decision to place their fixtures on hold when the government review the tier restrictions in the middle of next week – but the move to allow supporters to attend could mean that clubs could return to league action before Christmas.

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The news was particularly well-timed for the likes of Ryhope CW, Hebburn Town and Jarrow as up to 150 supporters could be able to attend their FA Vase second round ties at the weekend.

The move could see South Shields back in competitive action before the festive period after the Northern Premier League confirmed that their decision to postpone games up to Saturday 19 December would be reviewed “if in the interim, the Government make any changes to the current Tier restrictions that allows the return of fans to all NPL fixtures, the league will approve the reinstatement of any scheduled matches where both clubs are in agreement.”

However, the five North East clubs that ply their trade in the National League and National League North will continue to play their fixtures behind closed doors as the top two tiers of non-league football are classed as elite sport.

That means that Blyth Spartans, Darlington, Gateshead, Hartlepool United and Spennymoor Town remain under the same restrictions as the likes of Newcastle United, Middlesbrough and Sunderland.

An FA statement released on Thursday afternoon confirmed that approval for the limited return of supporters had been received from the government and laid out the conditions that must be met before the gates are opened for the first time in five weeks.

The statement in its entirety read: We have today received approval from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) for a limited return of home spectators to be permitted at clubs competing in the National League System (NLS), Women’s Football Pyramid (WFP)and Buildbase FA Vase if they are situated in Tier 3 areas.

We have worked continuously alongside the DCMS, Sports Grounds Safety Authority and leagues to gain approval and clubs competing in Steps 3-6 of the NLS, Tiers 3-6 of the WFP and Buildbase FA Vase that are situated in Tier 3 areas are now permitted to accommodate home spectators up to 15% of their ground grading capacity in line with Stage 1 of our respective guidelines for the NLS or WFP.

A limited return of home spectators up to 15% of their ground grading capacity will also be permitted in the Buildbase FA Trophy if the fixture is between two ‘non-elite’ clubs (clubs at Steps 3-4 of the NLS) in a Tier 3 area. All fixtures in the Buildbase FA Trophy that involve an ‘elite club’ (clubs at Steps 1-2 of the NLS) in a Tier 3 area must remain behind closed doors in line with the UK Government’s return to ‘elite’ sport guidance.

Prior to admitting spectators, clubs competing in Steps 3-6 of the NLS, Tiers 3-6 of the WFP, the Buildbase FA Trophy and Buildbase FA Vase that are situated in Tier 3 areas are strongly advised to liase with their respective Local Authority for agreement on capacity limits.

It is extremely important that spectators remain in their household or social bubble in groups of six, do not mix with any other spectator groups, or travel between Tiers to attend fixtures, as enforceable by law. If breaches of spectator limits or social distancing are reported, clubs and leagues may face returning to fixtures being held behind closed doors.

Under UK Government guidelines, bars, pubs, cafes and restaurants in Tier 3 areas must be closed, except to sell by takeaway or click-and-collect, and this remains the case for clubs competing in Steps 3-6 of the NLS, Tiers 3-6 of the WFP, the Buildbase FA Vase and Buildbase FA Trophy with clubhouses in Tier 3 areas.

Clubs competing in Steps 3-6 of the NLS, Tiers 3-6 of the WFP, the Buildbase FA Vase and Buildbase FA Trophy that are situated in Tier 1 or 2 areas remain permitted to accommodate a phased and limited return of spectators if they continue to follow the UK Governments’ latest guidance on COVID-19 and our respective guidelines for the NLS or WFP.

Regional NLS Feeder Leagues, Tier 7 of the WFP and outdoor grassroots football also remain permitted to accommodate socially-distanced spectators but must follow the UK Government’s ‘rule of six’ and guidance on restrictions in certain tiers.