EFL chief cautiously optimistic for capacity crowds at the start of next season

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EFL chief executive Trevor Birch remains cautiously optimistic that clubs will be able to kick off the 2021/2022 campaign in front of crowds at full capacity.

The FA Cup semi-final between Leicester and Southampton as well as the Carabao Cup final – when Manchester City face Tottenham – will see some fans returning to Wembley.

It is hoped that the government events research agenda to allow the safe introduction of mass gatherings and indoor events as lockdown restrictions in England are eased will ultimately lead to an increase in the number of participants.

Former Swansea president Trevor Birch (right) believes the EFL can run safe events (Mike Egerton / PA)

Some 4,000 spectators will be able to watch a match live for the first time since December in the second FA Cup semi-final, while a crowd of 8,000, including City and Spurs fans, will be allowed to attend. Wembley April 25.

If the pilot program – which could also lead to an increase in attendance for the FA Cup final on May 15 – proves successful and the route out of the lockdown continues to follow the government’s roadmap, then lifting of all social distancing measures is scheduled for June 21. .

Along with the NHS enforcement, a Covid certification scheme, which could include proof of vaccination, a negative test result, or detectable antibodies, should help reopen the company.

Birch believes that whatever national and local measures are in place, there is real hope for a return to some sense of normalcy for the next campaign.

“Our aspiration and our goal is that from August 6 we will be back in full swing in accordance with the government’s roadmap for unlocking the economy from June 21,” he said. .

“Hopefully, following all of these test events, it will help and hopefully get the government to allow us to do this.

“The key will obviously be to try to mitigate the spread by removing the need for social distancing that leads you to Covid certification, which will undoubtedly have a role to play moving forward.”

Birch added, “I’m positive, our aspiration has to be this (full of motives).

“We are not blind to the issues surrounding the difficulties in getting there, but we hope that the introduction of Covid certification, which seems to be the direction of travel, may well help us reach that level.”

Preston North End's Tom Barkhuizen takes a twist as fans watch Carrow Road
EFL clubs were able to welcome a few supporters earlier in the campaign (Nigel French / PA)

Birch, however, admitted the potential for increased infection rates in different parts of the country with regional variations “could reduce travel” and thus reduce the chance for away fans to attend some games. .

The EFL chief executive knows it is ‘vital’ for clubs to be able to get bodies through the turnstiles again, with a rough estimate of the collective financial impact of around £ 250million.

“This was offset by a few mitigating factors that allowed clubs to survive – the Championship loans, the Premier League bailout from leagues one and two,” said Birch, who took office at EFL in January. after serving as President of Swansea. and director of football operations at Tottenham.

“We had postponements and salary cuts, blocking the HMRC app, iFollow also helped, so there were mitigating aspects – but another season behind closed doors would have been unpleasant for most clubs.

“We are trying to create certainty in a very uncertain situation to allow clubs to plan and give them confidence in planning for next season.

“Looking positively towards the future, we have the date of June 21 where ‘all systems are gone’, albeit with a few caveats about it, but we have to plan accordingly.

“The clubs all want to know what to do in terms of season tickets, whether we have to offer iFollow or whether we are confident of bringing fans back early.”

Birch believes the “positive noise” coming from Euro 2020 host cities may also give EFL hope for August.

“It all helps to create a little more certainty and comfort around our ability to come back in front of the fans,” he said. “It’s encouraging that they are talking about these numbers.”

Specific details on how fans will travel to and attend the Carabao Cup final have yet to be confirmed, with Birch admitting “there are a lot of moving parts” with all the stakeholders involved.

Some tickets at Wembley will be made available to local residents as well as NHS workers.

“I hope there will be as few restrictions as possible and that it will be normal enjoyment of the game,” said Birch.

“I hope we are the best bet to prove that we have the professional experience necessary to provide a safe environment and a safe event. Any procedures that we can put in place to achieve this, then we will adopt them. “

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