Sutton United critical of inconsistencies in fan restrictions

Sutton United chairman Bruce Elliott has labelled the Government’s policy around fan restrictions in stadiums inconsistent, as clubs continue to play out the season without supporters.

A limited number of fans have been allowed to attend football in the seventh tier and below since August after the Government changed its guidance on recreational team sports.

However, the plan was abandoned for clubs in the top six tiers, labelled elite clubs, which includes National League side Sutton.

For Elliott, the problem lies not with the prevention of fans in grounds, but rather with the lack of consistency in the government’s current measures.

He said: “Sutton Common Rovers, who ground share with us, are allowed spectators because they play at a lower level.

“And if you step back and look at it then that is complete nonsense. People are being encouraged to go to cinemas but they can’t go and watch a football match which is in the fresh air. There are so many anomalies at the moment and people are finding it very difficult to know how it all works. 

“But I think the biggest worry is that some of our supporters – and we work hard to build up our supporter base, will drift off and watch games at a lower level.

“I’m not saying that they won’t come back to us, hopefully, they will, but in the meantime, their money is lost to Sutton and other clubs in a similar position.

“All we want is for it to return to what we remember as normal. We are a community club and we just need to get back to how it was before.”

The impact of the pandemic on teams lower down the footballing pyramid has been stark, with many clubs receiving no revenue since the start of the pandemic.

Both the emergency package from the Government and the financial support from The National Lottery fund will provide £10m to help teams carry on with the current campaign, as well as continue vital work in their communities. 

The National Lottery fund was announced by Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden, and confirmed over the weekend, whilst the Government deal was confirmed on 2 October. 

It is understood that if supporters are unable to return after the three-month period then similar funding is likely to be available from the Government for another three months. 

Matchday revenue constitutes the vast proportion of income for teams at this level and therefore Elliott believes the funding will be a welcome addition for all those involved. 

He added: “The principle of the assistance is contrary to what the teams had planned for. The government quite rightly came along and compensated us, and without this assistance, it would have been extremely problematic.”

Of course, plans to receive the funding is one thing, but the specific details of how this support will be distributed between the 66 clubs have not yet been confirmed. 

Elliott explained: “Lots of people have been guessing how it will be split, but that’s all they are doing. You could sit down and come up with 100 different permutations and one might end up being correct. 

“You have also got the added complication of whether you evenly distribute the money between all the clubs, or whether it’s weighted towards the National League as opposed to North and South. We just have to wait and hope that it is going to be enough to see us through the first part of the season at least.

“We’ve tried to cut our expenditure as much as possible and use the furlough scheme wherever we can. It’s been really difficult.”

Despite all the uncertainty at the boardroom level, the south London club has got off to a fantastic start on the pitch this season. 

The U’s have won three of their opening four games which are enough to put them in a play off spot and next up is a 260 mile round trip to Yeovil tonight in the National League.

Richmond media director Seb White previously expressed his support for the funding, and for the support of their fans.

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