Shrewsbury Town fan officer: Let us prove fans can come in more numbers

Supporter liaison officer Roger Groves has urged the government to allow football clubs the opportunity to trial fans’ safe return.

Shrewsbury Town supporters sitting in the stand. (AMA)
Shrewsbury Town supporters sitting in the stand. (AMA)

Town were one of seven EFL clubs to stage a successful pilot fixture last month, as 1,000 socially-distant supporters watched Sam Ricketts’ side fall to a 2-1 home reserve to Northampton Town in League One.

Shrewsbury’s trial was rated 10 out of 10 by onlooking safety officials and the club were hoping to move to a larger capacity to incorporate more than one stand and include all 2,700 season ticket and box holders.

But they were set back by subsequent government guidance, which suggested supporters’ return to English football stadia could take as long as six months.

And Groves, who alongside his SLO and supporters’ parliament colleague Mike Davis played a key role in preparing the stadium and communicating with fans, has pleaded for the green light to take the next step.

“I think the next stage would be for clubs like us to be allowed a further trial,” Groves said.

“Allowing a bigger capacity percentage and other clubs to be allowed to have smaller ‘starter’ pilots like we originally had, to get everyone used to how it works.

“We’ve proven it can work, now let us prove we can make it work on a bigger scale.

“Our club would be able to manage that and I want every club to be able to follow the lead that we’ve made.

“We’re available to talk through how we’ve done it and I firmly believe we need to keep the pressure on to get fans back into stadiums to support our industry and our local communities.”

The liaison officer revealed that the feedback he had from the 1,000 fans in attendance last month was that they felt safer inside the stadium than at bars, restaurants and supermarkets.

Groves argues that the guidance on attending football matches at elite level is unclear when in comparison to recreational sport and other settings.

“I think for me, the current message is unclear and a little bit inconsistent from the government,” he added.

“Of course, safety has to be paramount but for example, many non-league clubs are currently allowed to admit 600 supporters to matches, and many don’t have the quality of facilities as we can give them.

“When you go up to the Championship, the facilities at stadiums are even greater and those clubs would be able to implement all the safety measures needed.

“When you go on a plane or go to a cinema there are currently less restrictions in place than there would be at football stadiums, which I don’t think has been fully explained.”

Montgomery Waters Meadow last had supporters inside prior to the Cobblers clash on March 7, a defeat to Oxford just before the Covid lockdown.

Lower league clubs are desperate for a cash boost given the sizeable losses of income, which stretches beyond a matchday and includes hospitality, conferencing and other events. The Meadow is generally in use and making money almost every day of the calendar year.

Groves said: “What I want to see next is a clearer message for football and its clubs. Seven pilot Clubs have proved that this can work.

“A number of key people in football have said that the events were a success and that we’re in a position to move to the next stage. That would help kick-start our communities – not just in Shrewsbury but all over the country.”

A petition, meanwhile, which has called for football fans to be allowed to attend matches at all levels and is backed by the Football League, is nearing 200,000 signatures.

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