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EFL clubs to be allowed 1000 fans in from this weekend for trial events

The English Football League will continue to stage pilots with up to 1,000 fans at matches this weekend, following approval from the government.

EFL clubs were asked to put in requests by Tuesday in order for their plans to be signed off in time.

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden will meet with sports bodies later this week to discuss the planned return of spectators to sport from 1 October.

The EFL said the pilots were an "important step" for fans' safe return.

Those in local lockdown areas such as Bradford, Bolton and Oldham were told they would not receive permission to take part in the test events.

In a letter to clubs on Tuesday morning, the EFL's head of policy John Nagle said: "We cannot guarantee at this stage that all clubs that would like to stage a pilot will be given permission to do so, as only a limited number will be approved.

"We are still in discussions with regard to pilot matches on other dates."

Nagle said that "the next 48 hours are likely to be critical in terms of determining the direction of travel" regarding the potential return of fans.

He asked clubs to lobby local MPs, asking them to "make representations on behalf of you, their local club, to government," and added that football was facing "an impending financial crisis as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic".

Nagle also said key messages clubs should highlight to MPs were that: "Football now wishes to see the government give the green light to the return of crowds from the beginning of October as originally planned, as will be the case in many other European countries including Belgium, Germany, France, Denmark, Austria, Poland and Switzerland.

"Failure to do so, or to at least provide any credible roadmap back to the return of fans in the near future, could have catastrophic consequences for many football clubs and the communities they represent."

He apologised for the "late notice and short timescales", but said "we are very much in the government's hands on this one".

An EFL spokesman said it remained "in discussions with the government about the pilot programme which may include a limited number of further pilot matches during September with capacity limited to 1,000".

"The League is clear in its view that social distancing can be applied safely in football stadia and that having crowds at matches is an absolutely essential part of helping to protect club finances, which remain under extreme pressure," they added.

"Therefore, the successful delivery of further pilots will be an important step towards getting larger numbers of fans into grounds safely."

Last week, the government restricted pilot events to 1,000 spectators after a rise in coronavirus cases, and said plans for grounds to be up to a third full from 1 October would be reviewed.

The Premier League has already written to the government over pilot plans and says around £100m per month will be lost by clubs across the leagues while matches continue behind closed doors.

It is one of a number of sports bodies to have voiced concerns at the financial impact of an extended period with empty venues.

Nigel Huddleston, Minister for Sport, Tourism and Heritage, has written to former sports minister Tracey Crouch MP to state that despite changes to Covid-19 restrictions, the UK government is hopeful fans can attend events under socially distanced conditions from 1 October.

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