AFC Wimbledon rule out fan return until 2021 despite London’s Tier 2 ruling

Dan Kilpatrick
·4-min read
 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

AFC Wimbledon are not expecting to host supporters at their new stadium until next year after being given no warning of the Government's decision to allow fans to return from next Wednesday.

London has been placed in Tier 2 of coronavirus restrictions when the national lockdown ends, meaning clubs in the capital can welcome back 2,000 supporters from December 2.

AFC played their first match at their newly built Plough Lane home earlier this month but the stadium remains unfinished, is still under the management of contractors and yet to be awarded a safety certificate to host fans.

The club hopes to hold one of two required test events with fans at a home match in January but chief executive Joe Palmer warned that there was still considerable work to be done before Plough Lane could host even a small number of spectators.

"First and foremost, the government’s announcement has come completely out of the blue and taken the entire game by surprise," Palmer told the club's website. "None of us – and by that I mean all the EFL clubs – had any expectations, or even a hint, that fans might be allowed back before Christmas.

"Purely on protocol grounds, we cannot suddenly stage such a game – as much as we would like to.

"First, we will need to hold test events, which will be monitored by our local safety advisory group, and then we will need to be issued with safety certificates and secure approval from Merton council.

"So far, all our efforts have been concentrated on getting our new stadium to a point where we could physically stage matches under behind closed doors protocols – and that culminated in our first game at Plough Lane against Doncaster.

"These protocols are still being refined and are set for further review following our next couple of matches.

"We also will need to have full stadium completion and handover before any fans may return. There remain areas of our new stadium that need completing, even though we still expect our constructors, Buckingham, to formally hand the stadium over to us on December 7, as scheduled.

"In normal times, at this point, we would have held a couple of test events, received our safety certificate and then could have started playing in front of full crowds. However, it is unfortunately not as simple as that as a result of Covid-19."

Palmer said the club had begun the process of adapting the stadium to hold supporters in socially-distanced conditions, based on guidelines published by the Sports Ground Safety Authority.

He said the process required the club to effectively 'start again from scratch' when it came to configuring their new home.

Palmer added: "These guidelines are considerably more complicated than behind closed doors matches and need considerable planning and liaison with the safety advisory group and local council to make sure everything they require is in place.

"We also have considerable work to do around the ticketing process, which involves completely rejigging seating layouts and ticketing arrangements, not to mention changing internal layouts and signage to meet protocols.

"We effectively have to park all the normal operating plans and procedures that we have been drafting for the past six months and start again from scratch."

Palmer warned that the club could not "rush" the plans to ready the stadium for supporters, particularly given AFC's "reliance on other parties to work through the protocols".

He added: "I would expect we will be required to stage a test event at circa 1000 fans, which we hope will be one of our home matches in January.

"Naturally, we will try our best to speed up the process. But there is a lot of work to be done first, we will not compromise our long-term ability to use the stadium – and we will not take stupid risks when the safety and security of absolutely everyone is at stake."

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