Plans are now being put in place for the return of spectators to EFL and Premier League games and CAST has been invited, along with other supporter groups, to a consultation meeting with CAFC staff this week. The invitation was as follows:
"The club will host a test event which will likely be our game against Doncaster Rovers at The Valley on September 19th. The stadium is set to open to between 6,000 and 8,500 for games in October as per present government guidelines.
The club is looking to host a series of video consultation meetings with fans on Thursday, August 27th. These meetings will be important in making sure both the club and supporters are ready for the return of fans to stadiums and in shaping what a matchday will look like when supporters return. For this reason it is important that the club is able to consult supporters that sit in different areas of the stadium and travel to The Valley by different methods.
Ahead of the first game back the club will produce documents and supporting videos for fans to help explain changes once the matchday protocols are set."
Matt Slater and Chris Waugh wrote an interesting article in The Athletic last week "How football will welcome fans back to stadiums" and we are grateful for their insights which we summarise below. To avoid any confusion, we stress that these are opinions about the return of fans to stadiums in general and do not specifically refer to Charlton. Having said that, we imagine that these will be the sort of issues about which the club will wish to consult fans on Thursday.
The Sports Ground Safety Authority (SGSA) - which is the government agency responsible for ensuring safety in stadiums in England and Wales - has issued 85 pages of draft guidelines to help clubs come up with social- distancing plans.
It is hoped that most clubs will be able to operate with capacities of about 30% of their usual maximum, but no two stadiums are the same in terms of dimensions, design and surroundings. Maintaining social distancing once supporters are actually seated is the easy bit.
Each individual, pair or small group of fans will need to be spaced out around each block of seats. Fans from the same household will be able to sit together, as will groups of up to six people from two households. Larger groups have the advantage of leading to fewer "wasted" seats but engineering this will not be easy and clubs will not be able to discriminate against fans who want to sit on their own or with a couple of others.
Movement to, within and from the stadium
There is no point drawing up clever plans to keep people apart for the game itself if no thought is given to what happens outside. This is where clubs will work closely with their safety advisory groups (SAGs) which help local authorities decide if ground are safe or not. CAST are on the CAFC safety advisory group.
Some clubs will probably assign arrival times to avoid overloading local buses and trains and crowding at the gates. Fans are likely to be held back after the final whistle so that an orderly exit can be managed. It is expected that there will be temperature checks for everyone on arrival and that masks will be mandatory as has been the case for behind-closed-doors games.
Once clubs know how many fans they can fit in they can then start to work out which fans can attend.
Even if clubs are permitted to operate at 30% capacity (in CAFC's case = 9000) most are likely to have more season ticket holders than seats available. Of course, some fans will not want to attend for health or financial reasons. Others might not want to attend under current circumstances (eg wearing a mask). In fact, protecting these fans' rights to stay away without financial penalty or losing tickets should be a priority. But, even assuming that some will stay away, it is still likely that season ticket holders will only be able to attend some of the games they have paid for. The big issue, therefore, will be how to allocate tickets fairly - clubs may have to consider ballots or some sort of loyalty points-based system. CAST does not think it would be right to prioritise holders of the most expensive tickets over those in cheaper seats.
It is also unlikely that season ticket holders will be able to sit in their usual blocks, let alone seats, as the different permutation of groups for each game could see them sent on a tour of the stadium throughout the campaign. Fans who rely on tickets on general sale are likely to be left on the outside.
With every club trying to ensure that as many of their season ticket holders get in, almost all are asking if they have to accommodate travelling supporters at all. There are legitimate questions about the sense of encouraging large groups of people to travel the length of the country, especially if local lockdowns are to continue. Away fans also make the task of managing safe entry and exit more complicated plus collecting track and trace information. Bearing this in mind it is unlikely that there will be any away fans at games initially.
Clubs will have to look at one-way systems and the provision of perspex screens and hand sanitiser. If they have room clubs might install portaloos. It would seem likely that a maximum number will be allowed in toilets at any one time.
Some EFL clubs have already said that they are assuming that they will not have the room or capacity to sell any food or drink inside the ground at all. To avoid the problem of crowds at bars it has been suggested that food and drink could be served to fans in their seats during games. In terms of alcohol, however, this would require a suspension of the Sporting Events (Control of Alcohol etc) Act 1985 and this is not currently on the government's agenda.
It is hard to believe that, with many fans unable to attend matches, access to live streaming will not be made available. There is an issue that this might have a negative impact on lower division football but the advantages of a continued temporary lifting of the restriction against live Saturday afternoon broadcasting surely outweigh the disadvantages.