More than three quarters of non-league fans are ready to make an instant return to the terraces when coronavirus restrictions are eased, but health and financial concerns will see others stay away for longer.
It was announced on Friday that selected sporting events in England – the World Snooker Championship, the Glorious Goodwood horse racing festival and two county cricket friendlies – will pilot the return of spectators, with a view to crowds coming back more widely on a socially distanced basis from the autumn.
A survey of almost 7,000 supporters across non-league football and the Welsh pyramid – conducted in partnership between the Non-League Paper and Football Supporters’ Association (FSA) – found that 77.2 per cent of respondents would be happy to return from their club’s first game back under a hypothetical October start date.
A further 18 per cent expect to be back within three months, but 4.8 per cent say it will take more than six months for them to venture to a match, or that they potentially will not return at all.
Socially distanced queuing systems (81.6 per cent) and the availability of hand sanitiser (80.2 per cent) rank highly among safety measures fans not intending to return immediately would like to see adopted at grounds.
Nearly one in five fans (18.9 per cent) delaying their return have health concerns, such as having been shielding from Covid-19, while 9.1 per cent will hold off because they regularly attend with someone who has health issues, and almost a quarter of all respondents (22.2 per cent) are apprehensive about the return of football.
One in 20 fans (5.3 per cent) said they would not be returning to games immediately because their financial situation has changed for the worse since the pandemic, while 81.7 per cent believe non-league football should only return with supporters in stadiums.
Two thirds (66.4 per cent) of those who are delaying their return by at least a month want to see things managed safely before they come back, but the overall picture is a positive one for non-league sides, with 88.1 per cent trusting their club to ensure the safety of fans.
Andy Walsh, head of the national game for the FSA, said: “It is hugely encouraging that supporters are excited at the prospect of returning to watch live football and that more than 75 per cent of supporters are ready to come back straight away.
“Fans have expressed their overwhelming desire to only return to football when it is safe to do so. The results identify a number of key actions clubs need to take for their supporters to feel safe, and for our clubs to survive and thrive post-lockdown it is vital that clubs and leagues work with fans to ensure that our concerns are listened to and acted upon.
“Non-league has led the way in consulting fans with this survey and it is important to maintain and encourage this spirit of cooperation if the game is to recover from the effects of the public health emergency.”
The research was conducted online between July 5-15, with 6,952 fans completing the survey.