With the second national lockdown now over, fans are gradually being allowed to return to football league stadiums.
Cambridge United was one of the first clubs to benefit from this. Like almost every other elite club, the League Two outfit haven’t had the backing of their own fans since before the first lockdown in March. However, that all changed on 2 December when the U’s were allowed a capacity of 2,000 to watch their home game against Mansfield Town. Sadly, the team couldn’t reward their fans with victory as they lost 1-0.
Despite the result, United have made a promising start to the season. At the time of writing, they sit in sixth position in League Two. However, they have had a couple of indifferent results of late and will be looking to return to winning ways soon. They have plenty of football over December, though. This includes the Boxing Day fixture against Leyton Orient and an away match at Stevenage on the 29th that finishes off 2020.
In League One, Peterborough United have also made a good start to the season, and at the time of writing sit comfortably in the promotion play-off places. But, like Cambridge, they are in the midst of some indifferent results which included being on the wrong end of a second-round FA Cup upset when non-league Chorley came from a goal behind to win 2-1 and book a tie against Derby County in the third round. Posh are away to Gillingham on Boxing Day and home to Charlton on 29 December.
Fans have been allowed to watch some non-league football since the start of the season in September. However, no action was permitted during the second lockdown. Whilst fans are eager to see their teams play again, a complicated picture of how this might happen is emerging.
Depending on what tier clubs fall into, they might have to play behind closed doors and shut the clubhouse to prevent the public from mixing in indoor spaces. However, so many amateur clubs rely on admission and bar revenue. As a result, the thought of not having these vital income streams is discouraging many from re-starting the season with any certainty before Christmas.
This is definitely the case for leagues in steps 3 and 4 of non-league football as they have voted in favour to suspend their fixtures, and will review the situation when the government announces any changes to the tier system.
Talk now is of a potential re-start at this level in January, and when the non-league season does fully resume, a whole host of clubs will be left with plenty of football. For example, Cambridge City and Histon are currently in step 4 of non-league football and have only played four and six league matches so far. This is from a scheduled 38-game season. The situation is the same for many other clubs across the region. In fact, some leagues have already been extended until late May. One wonders what impact a cold winter with subsequent match postponements will have on the schedule. That is, if and when the season at this level of football resumes.
WORDS Andrew Dunn