Walsall bid to host 1,000 fans as part of EFL pilot event

Walsall are targeting a return for fans this month as they bid to be part of the EFL pilot scheme, the Express & Star understands.

Banks's Stadium
Banks's Stadium

Clubs across the Football League have been given the green light to run pilot events for up to 1,000 supporters to return to football stadiums this weekend.

Requests had to be submitted by today so that they could be signed off in time.

Walsall are playing away at Harrogate Town on Saturday so will not have the opportunity to stage a pilot immediately. However, it is understood that the Saddlers have submitted a request to the EFL to welcome 1,000 socially-distanced fans back to the Banks’s Stadium this month.

Following this weekend’s matches, the EFL are proposing a ‘limited number of further pilot matches during September’.

With that in mind, Walsall are targetting the home fixture against Leyton Orient on Saturday September 26 or the home EFL Trophy clash with Chelsea under-21s on Tuesday September 29 as one of those pilots.

It is understood that Walsall are open to either of those fixtures being used to stage a pilot as they are keen to welcome back socially-distanced supporters.

Clubs in local lockdown areas have been told, however, that they will not be able to take part in the test events.

The news comes as a surprise to some after the government restricted pilot events to 1,000 spectators after a rise in coronavirus cases – insisting that plans to welcome fans back in October was under review.

An EFL spokesman said: “The EFL remains in discussions with the government about the pilot programme which may include a limited number of further pilot matches during September with capacity limited to 1,000.

“The league is clear in its view that social distancing can be applied safely in football stadia and that having crowds at matches is an absolutely essential part of helping to protect club finances, which remain under extreme pressure. Therefore, the successful delivery of further pilots will be an important step towards getting larger number of fans into grounds safely.

“The EFL will continue its dialogue with DCMS and the SGSA to ensure that evidence and insight secured from these events helps to inform the government’s position on welcoming back supporters post October 1.”

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden is meeting with sporting bodies this week regarding the planned return to fans from October 1.

If the plans go ahead next month, Walsall will be able to house 3,270 Saddlers fans, socially distanced, in the 11,300 capacity ground.

Chairman Leigh Pomlett has previously outlined his desire to host a pilot at the Banks’s Stadium this month ahead of the plans that are still set to go ahead in October.

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