Fans’ return ‘key to continuing’ Leicestershire club’s season

By James Wynn

A Leicestershire non-league football club have admitted that the readmission of fans to their ground was key to being able to play competitive football.

Hinckley AFC, who play in the Midland League Division One, the tenth tier of English football, have been allowed to admit fans to their games since late August.

A maximum of 300 people are allowed to Hinckley’s Kirby Road ground, where they are the tenants of fellow non-league side Barwell FC, for games.

“[Fans coming back] has been pretty successful,” said Stewart Dee, Hinckley AFC’s match secretary.

“We were limited to 150 people for our first home match, but that has risen to allow a maximum of 300 people in recent games.

“Our highest number has been 220, but if we had a fixture where we thought we’d be busy, we might ask people to book in advance.”

Matchdays at Kirby Road do look different, however, with multiple measures being put in place to keep supporters safe.

“We had to complete and implement a published COVID-19 risk assessment as a requirement to be able to play,” Stewart said.

“We’re tenants of the ground with Barwell, so we worked with them to implement the measures.

“We’ve had to operate a one-way system around the main stand, close every second row in it to aid distancing and ask supporters to wear masks when queueing for a cup of tea or a burger.”

The issue of fans coming back to football grounds has been a topical issue in recent weeks, with the Prime Minister announcing last month that plans to admit fans in October would be put on hold for six months.

A key issue relating to the attendance of fans is the financial aspect, with clubs below the top two tiers of English football almost entirely reliant on matchday ticket sales to survive.

In the National League, the fifth and sixth tiers of English football, fans are still unable to enter grounds. A £10m rescue fund had to be agreed before their season could start at the beginning of this month.

“We played a pre-season game behind closed doors and it wouldn’t be sustainable to continue without fans,” Stewart said.

“We have expenses to pay to players and management and rent to pay as well.”