Stadium safety tests ‘to go ahead this month’ – York City could play matches in front of reduced crowds

In play soon? The LNER Community Stadium in York. Photograph: YorkMix
9 Sep 2020 @ 8.05 am
| Sport

Safety tests at the new LNER Community Stadium are due to take place this month, and York City could be allowed in at the start of October.

That’s the news from club chairman Jason McGill – who also said some fans might be allowed in, depending on the government guidance.

In an interview with Jules Bellerby on BBC Radio York, Jason gave an update on the stadium’s progress, after the club said it hoped to kick-off the season there in October.

“I’m led to believe that the stadium testing will take place in September to allow a certificate to be released to the stadium management company that will allow games to be put on,” Jason said.

Under the National League North fixtures released yesterday (Tuesday), City’s first league game will be at home to Chorley on Tuesday, 6 October. So when does the chairman expect to know if the club can play at the stadium?

“I don’t really know, but all I would say is if the test events are happening in September, which they are, and then we’ve got our first game on 6 October, you would be hoping that we’d be getting an answer pretty soon.

“We’re hoping that it’s going to be the beginning of October but that has got to be clarified.”

Reduced crowds

Club chairman Jason McGill. Photograph: York City / YouTube

He said the decision about allowing in crowds to sporting events was with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS).

“It’s their decision as to whether crowds will be able to return to watch football at our level.

“Obviously games can be played behind closed doors, but there’s not a lot of appetite for teams at the lower echelons of football to play without a crowd purely because of the financial constraints that you would have without a crowd.”

If spectators were allowed back in they would be subject to Covid-19 protocols, Jason told Radio York. That would mean only some of the stadium being open.

“If I was hazarding a guess, I would say that the crowds would be around about 25% of capacity, give or take. So I would say around 2,000 supporters would be able to come into the new community stadium, provided the DCMS approve the return of crowds.”

Financial hole

Fans at Bootham Crescent. Photograph © Ian Parker / Ice Photography

Last season the average crowd for a York City game at Bootham Crescent was about 2,800. And Jason says experience elsewhere shows that, when a new stadium open, it attracts a minimum of 30% bigger crowds – at least to begin with.

So many fans would be disappointed.

“Also it’s going to leave a very, very big hole in the finances of the football club. Because if we’re losing about 800 supporters per game from our crowds of last year, and that would be the minimum, then you’re going to be losing anywhere between £250 to £300,000 per year – lost revenue through loss of gate receipts because of the reduced capacity.

“So our costs haven’t changed, but our income has. So you know, it’s going to be challenging, put it that way. Somewhere, we’ve got to plug that gap.”

Could he stop away supporters from coming to LNER Community Stadium matches under the restrictions? Jason said he believed the National League were leaving that to each club’s discretion.

He was unsure about the FA’s position. City’s first game of the season is an FA Cup qualifier on 3 October.

Manager Steve Watson has rebuilt the squad after 13 players left the club following City finishing top of National League North, but being knocked out in the semi-final of the promotion play-offs.

So is Jason confident about the coming season?

“It’s going to take a little bit of time for the team to blend together. And I think a lot of the guys, they haven’t played a lot of football, so it’s going to be a struggle to be playing for 90 minutes full on.

“But I think Steve Watson will use the time and use the squad appropriately. And we’ll hopefully see the benefits of everything this season. So in answer to your question is the simple answer is I am confident.”