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Brighton chief Paul Barber hits out at decision to delay the return of fans again

‘We’ve taken a gigantic step backwards’: Brighton chief Paul Barber hits out at decision to delay the return of fans again and questions how top-flight clubs can bail out the EFL when restrictions make it hard to ‘sustain our own businesses’

  • Brighton chief Paul Barber has reiterated that fans can return to stadiums safely
  • He described the decision to delay return of fans as a ‘gigantic backwards step’ 
  • Premier League clubs are being asked to bail out the EFL to the tune of £250m
  • Barber said they need to be able to sustain their own businesses in order to help

Brighton chief executive Paul Barber has claimed football’s efforts to fight back against coronavirus took ‘a gigantic step backwards’ when plans to allow fans to return were put on ice.

The Premier League club staged a successful pilot in August as a scheduled limited reopening of stadia loomed, but a delay has since been ordered by the Government following a surge in cases.

Speaking on BBC Radio 5 Live as the debate over whether top-flight clubs should help those below them in the football pyramid continues, Barber said: ‘Football is so important to the country.

Brighton chief Paul Barber has once again hit out at the decision to delay the return of fans

‘It’s our national sport, it’s a pastime for millions of people right the way from the top of the country to the bottom, and we’re very very disappointed that we’ve gone backwards.’ 

Barber continued: ‘On August 30, we staged a pilot event. We had 2,500 people in our stadium for a friendly match against Chelsea, we put in place at great cost a huge amount of mitigation measures, as directed by the Sports Grounds Safety Authority and the Government. We complied with every single request.

‘We got overwhelming support from the fans that were in the stadium saying how safe they felt, how enjoyable it was for them to be back in the stadium, and now we’ve taken a gigantic step back.’

Barber believes supporters can return safely after their successful pilot back in August

Barber believes supporters can return safely after their successful pilot back in August

Premier League clubs also face swingeing losses from playing in empty stadiums

Premier League clubs also face swingeing losses from playing in empty stadiums 

Barber, who has proved one of the more vocal top-flight chiefs over the issue, confirmed last week that Brighton will appeal to the Government to allow supporters back into grounds despite the latest coronavirus crackdown.

The delay of fans returning to stadiums is impacting the finances of every club in the country, particularly those lower down the pyramid with many owners and fans fearing their clubs could go bust.

Earlier this week, Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden was warned in a letter co-signed by 17 individuals including former Football Association chairman Greg Dyke and BBC and BT Sport pundit Robbie Savage that clubs in the EFL and National League need urgent help to ward off the threat of financial collapse.

Dowden has said that the Premier League needed to ‘step up to the plate’ to help EFL clubs and said he was hopeful of a deal being agreed this week.

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden has called on top-flight clubs to bail out the EFL

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden has called on top-flight clubs to bail out the EFL

Barber says the return of fans will put top-flight clubs in a better position to help the EFL

Barber says the return of fans will put top-flight clubs in a better position to help the EFL

There is understood to be huge frustration at a number of Premier League clubs that the Government is expecting them to bail out the English Football League to the tune of £250million at the same time as imposing restrictions on fans, with top-flight clubs also facing swingeing losses from lost ticketing receipts and falling revenues from broadcasting matches.

‘We’re being asked to support the football pyramid, but what we’re asking for is to be able to sustain our own businesses to put us in a better position to be able to do that,’ Barber added.

‘We think we can do it safely, we think that we can do it with people’s health absolutely paramount, but it’s absolutely vital that we’re able to sustain our own businesses if we are being asked to help others.’ 

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk