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HERALD EXPRESS - FANS' ZONE 22/08/2020




LET  US  BACK  -  PRESSURE  IS  BUILDING  FOR  SPECTATORS  TO  RETURN  TO  STADIUMS This week - an extended piece including additional thoughts from Nick that the Herald Express didn't cover!


Although there were further pre-season friendlies played last Saturday, frustration is beginning to boil amongst non-league clubs as another week goes by without spectators being admitted with crucially no income. The Government’s original plan to hold pilot events, prior to hopefully giving the green light for stadiums opening for fans, was curtailed at the 11th hour a fortnight ago but now has been re-started as spectators were admitted to the World Snooker Final with other trial events expected to follow, including cricket at The Kia Oval and Edgbaston.

However this is not soon enough for thousands who follow non-league as over the weekend football starved fans launched the #LetFansIn campaign with a legal challenge to the guidance provided from the Digital, Culture, Media & Sport department and the FA. Led by the Dorking Wanderers owner, Marc White, non-league fans are questioning why it’s acceptable for people to gather together at pubs and restaurants and for thousands to go to the beach when small crowds at football are not allowed.

White feels that the FA have failed to put the case of non-league football clubs properly to the DCM&S as he says with the correct Covid-19 protocols in place, “Clubs at Steps 5 & 6 with X capacity should be allowed to have Y people at a game.” He continued, “The FA haven’t done their job properly and demonstrated to DCM&S the various grades and levels of football and what type of attendances they have.”

The German Bundesliga last week extended the ban of spectators to the end of October.  It’s clearly no easy matter preparing stadiums for the return of spectators as there are numerous challenges and obstacles unique to every ground, Plainmoor being no exception.  The latest Government announcement is confirmation that fans will be allowed to return to stadiums next month but spectators will be made to sign up to a new code of behaviour.

Detailed mapping exercises are being drawn up at every stadium in the country to calculate how many supporters may be permitted. One of the biggest concerns is around how fans will enter and leave, then once inside after undergoing temperature checks we’ll be asked to wear face coverings whilst adhering to a one way system. All credit to those at Plainmoor who are working to put in place these detailed protocols.

To give readers an idea of what it takes to put on a professional match, last Friday Harlequins hosted the first Premiership Rugby match at the Twickenham Stoop ground which was divided into red, amber and green zones. The usual changing rooms were not large enough to allow social distancing so the two teams had to use re-configured rooms normally used as bars; just how will the two sets of players manage for changing space at Plainmoor?

There were also restrictions on the number of media - written journalists, photographers and radio broadcasters. All media had to wear face masks with post match interviews being carried out by Zoom.

Let’s hope there are no further setbacks and that we can plan for National League matches resuming on October 3 with a degree of excitement and confidence.

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What’s happening in the National League? Some week’s ago this column speculated that it would be Macclesfield dropping out of the EFL and not Stevenage and after last week’s Independent Arbitration panel’s decision to uphold the EFL’s appeal, it is indeed Macclesfield relegated. Poetic justice some might say for Stevenage after what happened in 1996. But will the National League admit them? Following what happened to Boston in 2007 there could be more dramas to come.

It must, then, be a nightmare for the fixture compiler for the National League. Plan for Macclesfield or not? And what about Dover - in or out? A league of what should be 24 teams down to 23 (or maybe even fewer) or let Ebbsfleet be re-instated? Over the weekend Dover announced a string of pre-season friendlies for September and although down to only 12 players they look as if they’re believing the club can continue.

Elsewhere newly promoted Weymouth, after manager Mark Molesley was tempted to Southend, and Barnet, where manager Darren Currie left after a cost cutting exercise, are looking for new managers. Barnet have cut their playing budget by 50% as their income has not only suffered from no fans attending ,as well as their entertainment facilities unopened, but also the loss of their main sponsor.

Meanwhile, good news continues to flow from The Gulls with the re-vamp of the Youth Development Programme after it launched last Monday with over 100 children of different ages involved. Manager Gary Johnson hailed it a “first day success.”

 All United fans will be hoping, over time, this will produce first team players and eventually lucrative transfer fees!

It looks, though, as if United will have to alter their pre-season friendly with Exeter City after The Grecians found out the date, September 5, is now when they have to play their Carabao Cup match.

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Who’s joining the National League Part 4? National South Champions Wealdstone who step up are another team to join the ‘1899 Club’ as The Stones were founded in this year too. The club have had a variety of homes, starting in Wealdstone but over the years have played in Harrow, ground sharing Vicarage Road with Watford before settling, in 2008, at the Grosvenor Vale ground in Ruislip.

Also known as The Royals the club have several claims to fame: in 1929 they were involved in a record FA Cup score which has never been repeated - a 7-7 draw with Dulwich Hamlet in a Fourth Qualifying Round match; they lost the replay 2-1. Their Athenian League fixture against Barnet was the first ever televised match by the BBC in October 1946. Wealdstone then appeared on TV again in 1949-50 when the BBC showed live their FA Cup match. And in the 1984-85 season they were the first non-league club to do the ‘double’, winning the Alliance League (equivalent of the National League) and the FA Trophy.

Notable former players include Vinnie Jones, Jermaine Beckford and Stuart Pearce. Current manager is Dean Brennan previously the boss at Hemel Hempstead, Billericay and briefly Kingstonian.

The Gulls have played Wealdstone in only two league fixtures, in National South, winning 3-0 away in October 2018 and 3-2 at Plainmoor in March 2019. There was one previous meeting, a pre-season friendly, United going down 3-1 in 1976.

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The FA have announced that for the 2020-21 season there will be no FA Cup replays, all matches have to be settled on the day. The Extra-Preliminary Round starts on September 1 and the draw for this and the Preliminary Round took place yesterday (Tuesday). And for this season all prize monies have been halved so if United win the Final next year they’ll only get £1.8 million!

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All Yellow Army fans were delighted to get official confirmation late last week that Connor Lemonheigh-Evans is indeed the promised mystery 5th signing of the summer but were surprised an ‘undisclosed fee’ was included prompting questions about when did United last pay a fee.

My research takes me to July 2012 when Billy Bodin signed from Swindon Town for a reported £70,000.  It was the same season we said goodbye to ‘keeper Bobby Olejnik who went to Peterborough for £338,000 and Mark Ellis to Crewe for £45,000.

Sad news on Monday with the passing of ex-Gull Alan Welsh at the young age of 73. He was signed  from Millwall by Frank O’Farrell in November 1967 and played 27 League & Cup games scoring 8 times in his first season.  He was a great addition to the squad and when sold to Plymouth Argyle in the summer of 1972 had played 161 League & Cup games scoring 50 goals. Our condolences to his family; I’m sure there’ll be many in the Yellow Army who have fond memories of watching him play.

As always you can contact me at: fanszone.tu@gmail.com

To the Yellow Army stay safe and start counting down those days to football.

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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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