Premier League clubs fear that games could be played behind closed doors until November as the Government desperately tries to stop a second coronavirus wave.
Along with football, other major sports have voiced their concerns over when they will be able to get spectators safely back inside grounds, with the initially planned return date of October 1 looking more unlikely as the days go by.
In recent weeks coronavirus cases have been on an alarming rise in the UK, which will see Prime Minister Boris Johnson impose tighter restrictions in a bid to prevent a second wave.
Premier League clubs fear a second wave will keep spectators out of stadiums until November
The PM faced a welter of criticism as he begged the public to keep faith with his draconian new rules despite the testing system descending into a shambles, with fears schools and offices will have to shut because people with mild symptoms cannot prove they are negative.
Amid bitter clashes between experts over the best way to respond to the rise in Covid cases, the North East is the latest area facing new curbs, including forcing pubs to shut at 10pm and a ban on households socialising with anyone else.
In an interview with The Sun, Mr Johnson emphasised that social restrictions, localised lockdowns, and a ‘ramped up’ testing were being used in a bid to prevent a second wave.
He warned: ‘The only way to make sure the country is able to enjoy Christmas is to be tough now.’
Prime Minister Boris Johnson is ready to impose tighter restrictions across the UK
Sports governing bodies believe a November return at the earliest is more likely, with clubs looking to move towards 30 per cent capacity.
Up to 1,000 fans will be allowed at eight fixtures across the three divisions of the EFL, including the Championship matches at Middlesbrough and Norwich, on Saturday afternoon – a decision which has caused backlash among supporters as they fear for their safety and well-being.
EFL chairman Rick Parry, who said EFL clubs are losing £25million a month while fans aren’t allowed in stadiums over Covid-19 concerns, believes these trial events in football can ‘show the nation the way forward.’
He told Today on BBC Radio 4: ‘It’s entirely compatible with the rule of six. I think the government has a challenge in explaining all of the rules simply.
‘The government wants people to return to work, children to return to schools, students are returning to universities in huge numbers.
New restrictions would see fans having to wait another month before returning to grounds
‘We understand completely the rule of six but in terms of the social distancing within stadiums it’s entirely compatible with the rule of six. Given we’re the most regulated industry in the country when it comes to managing large events we can be an exemplar.
‘As we look for positive solutions amid the coronavirus crisis we can set examples of a return to a degree of normality safely and with social distancing in place.’
The latest set of games that will take place this weekend follows a successful pilot event involving 1,000 fans at last week’s EFL Trophy match between Cambridge United and Fulham Under 21s.
The events will take place despite the latest restrictions from the government in introducing the ‘rule of six’ at the beginning of this week.
Up to 1,000 fans will be admitted to eight EFL fixtures this Saturday in the latest test events
The EFL hope this weekend’s games are the latest step to safely returning fans to stadiums
EFL chairman Rick Parry has insisted the pilot games will be compatible with the ‘Rule of Six’
EFL Pilot matches
Saturday 3pm unless stated
Norwich City v Preston North End
Middlesbrough v AFC Bournemouth
Blackpool v Swindon Town
Charlton Athletic v Doncaster Rovers
Shrewsbury v Northampton
Hull City v Crewe Alexandra
Forest Green Rovers v Bradford City
Carlisle v Southend (1pm)
The ‘rule of six’ limits came into effect in England and Scotland on Monday and apply to both indoor and outdoor gatherings. They apply to indoor groups in Wales.
Mr Johnson and his ministers acted after the UK’s coronavirus reproduction rate escalated to between one and 1.2 for the first time since March.
It followed three consecutive days of over 3,000 new cases and comes amid a shortage of tests.
Parry reiterated his hope that this weekend’s matches will help convince the government that supporters can return in limited numbers from October 1.
A plan for grounds to be up to a third full next month is now under review.
He said: ‘Our point is that we need supporters back in stadiums because we are haemorrhaging around £25m a month.
‘The cost across the season to us is £200m, which is not sustainable, and we believe all the work that has been done on the safe return to stadiums with the government is a practical and workable solution going forward.
‘Clearly if the tests with 1,000 are successful, we hope to build on that gradually and get back to the October aspiration of playing safely with reduced capacities and showing the nation the way forward.’
Fans reacted with anger and bewilderment at the decision to allow 1,000 fans in to the games