All games across the Championship, League One and League Two are set to be broadcast live on television or online after the English Football League confirmed matches are almost certain to resume behind closed doors.
An open letter to fans from EFL chairman Rick Parry confirmed that there is no scheduled date for the return of football across the country due to the uncertainty that follows the coronavirus crisis, with the government on Thursday announcing a further three-week UK lockdown that runs until 7 May at the very least.
Parry confirmed that when games eventually resume, fans will be locked out of EFL matches, meaning hundreds of thousands of season-ticket holders and match-going supporters face missing out on a large chunk of the remaining 2019/20 season, if not all of it.
To make up for the absence of attendable matches, the EFL has vowed to try and make every match across their leagues available to watch from home after entering talks with broadcast partners, iFollow and club streaming services, which should in theory enable football to return sooner than if thousands of supporters were in attendance.
The Independent has seen a letter sent by the EFL to all club members detailing a plan that recommends a return-to-training date for players of 16 May, should the level of lockdown be eased next month, and that while a return date has not been officially rubber-stamped clubs have been instructed to prepare for a resumption at short notice.
Parry said: “To give you an honest assessment of the current situation; the point at which you will be able to attend games again remains unclear. Please be assured, however, that we are going to welcome you back to stadiums as soon as it is safe to do so. Your contribution to the matchday experience and atmospheres created in stadia up and down the country is something we should never take for granted. Unfortunately, I cannot tell you today when football will resume, though whenever we do return, matches are likely to be played without crowds.
“And whilst we are unfortunately without the presence of the hundreds of thousands of supporters who pass through EFL turnstiles each week, we will endeavour to bring live football direct into your homes once it returns. Plans are continuing to be worked up for all games to be broadcast either via our broadcast partners, iFollow or equivalent Club streaming services. We will update you on this once we know when matches will recommence.”
Parry stressed that the EFLs main aim remains to “deliver a successful conclusion to the 2019/20 season that ensures the integrity of our competitions”, which falls in line with the preference among the majority of European leagues to complete the current campaign before starting the new one.
However, he did acknowledge the multiple factors that go into such a complex decision, which balances the need to resume football for those whose livelihoods depend on the sport and the very existence of clubs against the transmission of Covid-19 combined with taking up medical resources that are needed on the frontline.
“As I am sure you will appreciate, the situation presents significant operational and financial challenges, including the logistics of clubs returning to full operational status, the practicalities of playing football behind closed doors, and the possible knock-on effects for the 2020/21 campaign,” Parry said. “Please be assured that we are working hard on these and will update you as soon as we can once decisions have been made.”
He added: “The contribution to footballs finances made by match-going supporters should not be underestimated. It is critical to the business model of league football. Perhaps the biggest challenge right now is not knowing when we will be able to reintroduce football in front of crowds. We can only hope that the situation develops in such a way that we will be able to do so with the shortest possible break.
“With or without spectators, delivering a successful conclusion to the 2019/20 season remains our goal to ensure the integrity of our competitions. This, of course, means that a number of factors – including when, where and within what timeframe fixtures will be played – must be given careful consideration in line with government advice. Similar factors must also be taken into account when agreeing an approach towards player training and testing, not least the appropriate level of medical resource and creation of an effective and efficient medical matchday protocol.
The row between players and clubs in the Premier League over wage reductions and deferrals continues with both sides yet to reach an agreement, but earlier this week the EFL and Professional Footballers Association reached a collective recommendation that players in Leagues One and Two agree a wage deferral of up to 25 per cent for April, with a minimum wage limit set set at £2,500. A working group involving six player representatives from the two divisions, alongside the union and league officials, are working to establish further common ground, and Parry confirmed that “good progress” is being made on the matter that has provided the biggest headache for the sport in 75 years.
“Aside from two catastrophic World Wars, this pandemic is arguably the most challenging issue to have affected football since the League was founded 132 years ago,” Parry continued.
“Our clubs have been left with significant outgoings while facing a sudden loss of income. With this in mind, Im sure you will be aware of talk about wages and deferrals. Good progress is being made in these areas, with a view to this assisting in delivering medium to long-term solutions that protect our game for years to come.”