Divisions divided: Covid tiers threaten football's integrity

Cod Almighty | Article

by Chris Smith

27 November 2020

The tier-restricted return of fans is a threat to the integrity of the League, and to the existence of many northern clubs

Its ironic that Grimsby Town seemed to be woefully unprepared for any eventuality given the penny-pinching mentality alluded to in the Diary on 26 November. I've said elsewhere that it reflects the country where 10 years of needless austerity wrecked our resilience to deal with a pandemic to put us where we are now.

An article in the Sunday Times, hardly a bastion of left-wing journalism, on 16 November made clear the link between deprivation and high Covid infection rates and its clear that with a few exceptions, some areas have suffered harsher restrictions for many months to seemingly little avail. This does have implications for their local football clubs.

For these reasons, while I would normally welcome the return of fans to football stadia, I am concerned that the integrity of the Football League is threatened, especially in division four.

I hesitate to say that Town are disadvantaged by not having home fans to play to, given their ability to freeze in front of an expectant crowd but I don't think it fair that most clubs continue to play behind closed doors while those in healthier and wealthier areas welcome supporters

Poorly supported sides such as Crawley, Stevenage and Forest Green will have the advantage of playing in front of near normal attendances in their Tier 2 regions. What are the prospects for Oldham and Bradford City of having their fans in attendance any time soon? Will North East Lincolnshire be treated favourably? Once an area is in a higher tier it seems to be difficult to exit.

I hesitate to say that Town are disadvantaged by not having home fans to play to, given their home record and an ability to freeze in front of a bumper expectant crowd but I don't think it fair that most clubs continue to play behind closed doors while those in healthier and wealthier areas welcome supporters.

Northern England has already seen clubs such as Macclesfield and Bury go to the wall and the harsher Covid restrictions can only make the threat of this worse. The non-League pyramid is also under threat. This evening, the North Counties East League have been told by the FA that spectators cannot be admitted in Tier 3 areas creating an existential threat to many clubs whose grounds often still bear the scars of the miners strike from 1984-1985. The non-League scene is vital to the health of all levels of football but again there is a gap widening between the haves and have-nots.

Perhaps I'm being too pessimistic. After all, the two local MPs have the ear of the Prime Minister, when he's not hiding in a fridge, and the future is blue so its bright according to another local politician with more than a passing interest in the club.

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