Colchester United Chairman Robbie Cowling has issued the following open letter to Prime Minister Boris Johnson:
I wrote to Colchester United’s local MP, Will Quince, exactly two weeks ago to explain the extraordinary lengths we were going to so that we can get paying supporters back into our stadium.
I provided him with a link, which you can read by clicking here, which is to an article I wrote for our supporters detailing the changes we have made for their safe return. These include changes to:
1. Our ticketing system which we have had to completely revamp.
2. Our seating areas where we have removed 1800 seats just so that we can ensure no fan has to even brush past another unless they are in the same support bubble.
3. The areas that surround our stadium to provide additional space and ensure attendees can move around the stadium whilst complying with the social distancing requirements.
The main reason for that letter to Will Quince was to request that the alcohol restrictions are lifted whilst we are only allowing home supporters into our stadium because we could see how that would increase safety even further.
Therefore, I’m sure you can imagine how devastated I was yesterday to hear that you have taken a broad brush approach which has rendered all of that work in vain and has stopped us from doing the one fundamental thing that all businesses need to do and that is trade.
Whilst working towards the return of our fans, we have totally understood the need for safety and we have taken all of the measures required to ensure our stadium is safe
However, with this one decision you have not only threatened the livelihoods of the staff at Colchester United and the local businesses that rely on our club, and not only those staff and local businesses of every other football club in the EFL, but those of every club across every sport in the UK.
I appreciate you must be very busy and you are having to make very difficult decisions but this was one area where you didn’t need to do a thing because we had it all under control and everything is in place to allow professional clubs to open safely.
As a professional football club, we are compelled to comply with the regulations, guidance and measures of the Sports Ground Safety Authority and we can’t open our stadiums unless a Safety Advisory Group, (SAG), made up of relevant representatives including medical professionals certify us as being safe.
The SAG use their expertise to determine on a club by club basis if our stadiums are fit to open our gates to the public and how many of the public are safe to attend.
This process hasn’t just been introduced during the pandemic, it has been in place for all of the fourteen years that I have owned a football club. It’s the responsible way in which we operate our stadiums at all times.
The SAGs understand the risk that COVID-19 represents and they have detailed knowledge of each and every professional football stadium in the UK.
They can determine at what levels those stadiums can operate safely. There is absolutely no reason for the Government to apply a rule that rides roughshod over the expertise of the SAGs.
It astounds me that a Government that introduces a ‘Whack a Mole’ approach to locking down those areas that represent a higher risk can’t introduce a system that recognises areas where the risk is much lower.
I suggest your Government quickly returns the responsibility for deciding how many attendees I can have at Colchester United fixtures from October to the Safety Advisory Groups because they have experience in these specific matters and know exactly what they are doing.
However, just so I understand it when I’m having to lay off even more staff, can someone explain to me again how I can safely sit in a confined aeroplane with 300 other passengers and I can safely eat inside a restaurant or drink inside a pub until 10pm but I can’t safely attend a football match which is predominately outside and has been certificated as safe by a SAG?
Robbie Cowling – Chairman, Colchester United Football Club