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Maidenhead United lobby National League to ask for return of fans or compensation from Government

Maidenhead United have lobbied the National League this week urging them to start the season as planned on October 3 - with or without fans - and to put pressure on the Government to overturn its decision to stop supporters returning to grounds.

Chairman Peter Griffin believes that clubs at Maidenhead United’s level can safely accommodate a small number of supporters in a ground that’s already been made COVID-19 secure.

The league had previously received approval to run pilot test events with fans from this week.

Griffin also thinks the Government have made a ‘knee-jerk’ reaction to the rising numbers of infections, brought about by the fierce criticism that was levelled at them after the Cheltenham Festival, Rugby Union Internationals and Champions League ties were allowed to go ahead back in March during the first wave of Coronavirus.

The second thing Griffin would like to see happen if the league season is delayed, or matches are forced behind closed doors, is for the Government to provide lower league and non-league clubs with some form of compensation to prevent large numbers of them from ‘going by the wayside’.

The National League is set to consult with its clubs this week ahead of deciding on whether to press ahead with the league season as planned on October 3 or to temporarily halt it while it works to find a solution with the FA and Government.

A decision from the board is expected tomorrow (Thursday).

In his message to Maidenhead United supporters this week Griffin said the club had written to the league expressing these views and was still working on the basis the season will kick off at Sutton United on October 3, with King’s Lynn Town set to visit York Road on October 6.

“The league’s original position was that we shouldn’t start the season, but the trouble is we’re well into pre-season now which means contracts have been activated,” said Griffin.

“This means it’s no good not starting the season because you’re still paying out.

“The league’s board should be lobbying Government in two areas. One of them is on allowing fans in, and I’m not saying that naively because I know that restrictions are being put in place. But allowing a smallish number compared to the capacity of the ground in an environment that’s been assessed for COVID, which is exactly what we’ve done, is one of the safest things you can do. It’s a lot safer than going to pubs, shops and restaurants which are all remaining open.

“So, I think they need to lobby the Government into not having a knee-jerk reaction and to get them to think about it and see if it can be done in a safe way. This virus is going to be with us for a long time yet and we need to come up with a workable way of getting through it. Just shutting things off is not going to work.

“The second thing that needs to be done is that the Government should be looking to help some of these clubs out. Lower division, Leagues 1 and 2 and the National League clubs, because we’re at the heart of the community. We’re not asking for a bail out from excesses of spending, it’s just that if we’re prevented from having people coming in then clubs will go by the wayside in big numbers”

A microbiologist by trade, and currently working within the pharmaceutical industry, Griffin is keen for the Government to do what they’ve said all along – follow the science.

National League clubs are being classed as similar to Liverpool and Manchester United because their players derive most of their living from football, even though most of them are much closer in size and structure to a step three club like Marlow, who will, as it stands, be able to play in front of fans this season.

“Michael Gove said that it would be a bad look if sporting events were taking place with even a low level of spectators whilst the country is abiding by other restrictions,” said Griffin. “I think what’s happened is that the Government got so much stick for allowing the Cheltenham Festival and Rugby Union internationals to go ahead when other countries were stopping them. I think they were stung by that criticism. But Cheltenham is 40,000 people crammed into a racecourse and at Maidenhead we would have about 800 people in a 4,500-capacity ground. It means everyone can socially distance and it can be done safely. I can’t see how that can be a risk compared to some of the activities that have been allowed to go on such as pubs staying open until 10pm.

“I’m not surprised by what’s happened but I’m disappointed that they haven’t followed the science and done what needs to be done.”

Griffin is also hopeful Magpies fans will continue to buy Gold and Silver Memberships for the new season (see pages 50-51) because that will enable them to watch livestreams of Maidenhead home matches if the season does start behind closed doors.

“By taking up the memberships they’re doing their bit for the club they support and helping it through it’s hour of need, ensuring there’s a club to return to on the other side of this,” Griffin added.

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