IT IS becoming increasingly difficult to see what the delay in bringing back spectators to football is all about — except optics.
At a time when the Government is promoting the “Rule of Six” and the country is subject to various local lockdowns, people will be scratching their heads, asking: “How can I not be allowed to meet with more than five other people I know but can go to a football match with thousands of people I don’t know?”
I can see what a difficult and conflicting message that might send out, which the Government might like to avoid.
Except that a Premier League football stadium is the safest place you can be. Safer than your own living room.
Our highly supervised environment means supporters are safer in there than if they were mixing informally in their own homes.
Yes, of course there are sound reasons why numbers have to be phased in, like the access to public transport (despite the fact that millions of people are being urged to go back to work).
Then there is the congregation of supporters before and after the games.
But we are not talking about late-night ravers here, we are talking about sensible football supporters who can to go to an activity in a safe way.
My plea for the return of sizeable crowds is by no means all about the loss of revenue although the sums are eye-wateringly large.
Lost match revenue for the Premier League stands all in at about £80million a MONTH.
It also rests on the loss of watching the best of football from where millions of people derive the greatest pleasure — right there in the stadium.
Reacting to the good and even the not-so-good.
Your team belongs to you and you to the team. Is there anything more stirring?
The history of Covid-19 and spectator sport began in March when the number of cases arising from the last Cheltenham Festival was never published.
But crowds of 60,000 or so a day over five days must have accelerated the rate the disease spread.
That, the Twickenham rugby international the previous Saturday and a serious infection striking Prime Minister Boris Johnson are seen as key events in transmission that led to lockdown.
Once so permissive, it is hardly surprising the Government is now very cautious.
Several times it has tentatively agreed to allow small attendances at snooker, rugby, cricket and football only for it to pull out the day before on several occasions.
This week it put its foot in the water again, giving permission to some English League clubs to open the gates to 1,000 fans each.
So, while it is possible that from October 3 small crowds are to be allowed at some or all matches — after all, it is working in Germany as their clubs’ stadiums can now operate at 20 per cent capacity — it seems unlikely.
Even with an agreed Premier League common standards approach to getting the supporters in, which includes those attending wearing face coverings, screening measures (health questionnaires and temperature checks), contactless tickets and payments, agreed transport strategies, test-and-trace arrangements and sanction regimes for individual fans and clubs who don’t follow the rules.
The bottom line is the clubs of the Premier League and EFL are run by responsible people.
We know how easily the virus can be passed from person to person and we are well aware of ways to prevent this happening.
A Premier League football stadium is the safest place you can be. Safer than your own living room. Our highly supervised environment means supporters are safer in there than if they were mixing informally in their own homes.
The precautions taken against players catching it have been exhaustive and highly successful.
Staff have become expert testers and players, with very few exceptions, have not strayed.
The Government trusted us to restart last season and we should by now have earned its support in staging matches in front of crowds.
Frankly, 1,000 spectators in, say, West Ham’s London Stadium — which has 66,000 seats — is so wide of that objective it rivals me in high heels shooting for goal from 25 yards. It is both laughable and irrelevant.
We could raise that number by 20 times and deal with the problem of social distancing both inside and outside the stadium.
It could, of course, all happen a lot quicker if we had even a dependable testing system, never mind world-beating.
Over to you, Boris.