At Altrincham they were ready for their return to the National League after promotion in August. The playing staff had been taken off furlough, guidelines had been followed and preparations made to ensure the club’s Moss Lane ground was capable of hosting the anticipated socially distanced 1,000 spectators. Then came yesterday’s governmental announcement that the plan to admit fans had been suspended indefinitely.
“If you ask me what we do now, there’s a simple answer: I don’t know yet,” said Bill Waterson, the club chairman. “The National had repeatedly said if there were no fans there would be no restart. They recognised without fans clubs would not have the income to support playing behind closed doors. Hence the delay of the start to Oct 3. That now appears to be a gamble that didn’t pay off. And we have yet to hear from them what happens now.”
At Altrincham, Waterson and the board had made plans for every possibility. They have developed a streaming service to allow fans to watch behind closed doors fixtures. But he admits that would only deliver about 25 per cent of standard match-day revenue.
“If we started behind closed doors, we could probably live for a month or two,” Waterson added.
Premier League supporters and broadcast partners were last night expecting the televising of every game to continue after plans for the return of crowds were scrapped.
Clubs were due to meet in the coming days to vote on whether to allow all matches to be shown next month and potentially beyond, having reversed their decision to block fans watching 160 of them by making each of this month’s available.
Sources at broadcasters said they expected the same arrangement to apply under which they have been awarded additional matches at no extra cost since the world’s richest league resumed.
That would see the BBC awarded at least one more game, and potentially several more if fans are shut out for up to another six months.
Broadcasters were not expecting clubs to set up some kind of rival streaming service to show matches that had not already been allocated to Sky Sports, BT Sport and Amazon.
The Football Supporters’ Association, which led a campaign to get all games shown, welcomed the news and said in a statement: “The Government’s announcement of a ‘pause’ on fans returning to games highlights the necessity for all leagues to ensure fans can watch their team, even if stadiums are closed.”
Showing all games live could mean rearranging fixtures so they do not clash with those Sky, BT and Amazon are planning to show,
Clubs, however, are understood to be concerned about the potential financial impact of that when it comes to their overseas’ rights deals in the Far East and the Americas.