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HERALD EXPRESS - FANS' ZONE 08/08/2020



DOUBTS OVER FOOTBALL’S RETURN - CAN NON-LEAGUE CLUBS AFFORD TO MAKE STADIUMS SAFE?


There we were just a week ago getting a little bit excited at the prospect of National League football returning, albeit not until October but then hopes were dashed with the news that the R number had risen so that the return to football could be delayed further.

With the pilots for spectators at snooker, horse racing and cricket knocked on the head will this impact on the National League season?

The NL board are set to hold an online meeting tomorrow (Thursday) to discuss the return to football.  Prior to this Government sources had quoted figures of 20% - 40% of crowds being allowed back. But to achieve this is no easy matter and at a considerable financial cost to each club. Take for example Surrey welcoming crowds back to The Kia Oval last weekend.  With only 2,500 fans, in a stadium built for 25,000, being allowed in as part of the then Government trial, Surrey spent £50,000 to get the ground Covid ready.  All the seats had to be disinfected, thermal-imagining cameras installed, similar to those at airports, for spectators on arrival and hand sanitising stations throughout the ground.  If this is what it takes for clubs to be allowed to admit spectators then non-league clubs are going to struggle to cope. We are told that Plainmoor is being prepared for all these protocols to be in place so all credit to those responsible for working hard on this.

And what about teams going to away fixtures? The capacity of a team coach in Covid times is 15 as opposed to the normal 50. At present county cricketers playing at an away venue are required to drive - one per car - to the ground on the morning of a match.  What on earth would the Gulls do to get to Hartlepool? This column last week wondered if any National League clubs could go out of business. Well on Monday came news of the first possible casualty with the Dover Athletic chairman announcing that with no further investment by the end of August the club will be liquidated.

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What’s happening in the National League? As football clubs prepare for the resumption of football, whenever that might be, with so many Covid-19 regulations before spectators are allowed to return it’s no surprise that, last week, Woking appointed a Covid-19 officer to take charge as all clubs are required to do and in addition publish an Action Plan for supporters.

More NL clubs are releasing players to trim their playing squads - seven left Dagenham & Redbridge including assistant manager Terry Harris while Bromley also let seven go as well as first team goalkeeping coach Jim Stannard.  In the light of Dover’s financial crisis all their playing squad are available on free transfers. Hartlepool, meanwhile, signed five last Saturday.

The National League South Team of the Year features four from Champions Wealdstone which includes ex-Gull Michee Efete, who joined United on loan from Norwich for the 2017-18 season, while another ex-Gull, Dartford’s Elliott Romain also makes the team.

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In a normal year the Yellow Army would be preparing to go to a series of pre-season friendlies but these are different times. Never-the-less it may be worth recalling that on August 1 1997 Coventry City led by Gordon Strachan and a squad including keeper Steve Ogrizovic, Dion Dublin, Liam Daish and Gary McAllister came to Plainmoor for John Uzzell’s Testimonial. Uzzell played 92 games for United between 1989 and 1992 before his career was ended by Brentford’s Gary Blissett with an horrific facial injury. Coventry won 4-1.

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Who’s joining the National League Part Two? Altrincham from the North but from the South joining champions Wealdstone are Weymouth, following their 3-0 win on penalties over Dartford.  Weymouth, founded in 1890, have a chequered history surviving almost going into administration in 2009 and then liquidation the year after. Nicknamed ‘The Terras’ due to their terracotta strip.

Over the years they’ve had a succession of well known managers including Steve Claridge who was succeeded by a certain Paul Buckle (with two others) who, in turn, was followed by the late Steve Johnson, Gary Johnson’s brother. Steve, who had managed Latvia’s Under-18 side, took charge from 2004 until 2005. Other Weymouth managers have included Garry Hill, John Hollins ex-Chelsea, Bobby Gould, Jerry Gill (now at Bath City) and Martyn Rogers. Current boss since 2017 is Mark Molesley, whose playing career included Bournemouth, Plymouth and Exeter City.

United last played Weymouth in the 2008-2009 Blue Square Premier winning 1-0 at the Bob Lucas stadium on Boxing Day in 2008 in front of 2323. The return fixture at Plainmoor, in February 2009 with 1743 in attendance, saw United beaten 2-0 but despite that victory Weymouth were relegated while United returned to the EFL.

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Understandably, although many clubs are desperate for funds, they are reluctant to announce season ticket sales for the 2020-21until it is known when and how many spectators can be admitted. For some teams it may be that the only fans allowed into a ground will be season ticket holders, no away fans and no casual walk-ups - in United’s case holiday makers.

Hungerford Town have set up a deal with a ticketing company so tickets are pre-paid which allows them to hold data for those attending in case test and trace is needed.

How many Yellow Army fans are exiles and travel hundreds of miles to home games? I used to be one doing an almost 400 miles round trip from Berkshire - now it’s only 130 from West Somerset - but arguably our Number One fan - Paul Bastard - has his Manchester base from which to drive.  The Yellow Army consists of real football supporters.

On the subject of season tickets Bromley ST holders have donated £7,122.33 back to the club in refunds from the 2019-20 season.  How much have Gulls’ ST holders given?

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The 2019-20 National League season began on August 3 2019 and on Sunday it was concluded with the shock defeat of Notts County in the play-off final at Wembley.  Congratulations to Harrogate Town on their conclusive 3-1 win to book their EFL place for the first time in their history.

Tell me your thoughts about returning to Plainmoor at: fanszone.tu@gmail.com

In the meantime to all the Yellow Army stay safe.

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Nick Brodrick, TUST board member and Supporter Liaison Officer, writes a weekly column for the Herald Express under the heading "Fans' Zone". Keep an eye out for next weeks edition in the paper on Wednesday.



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