Colchester United Chairman Robbie Cowling has issued the following:
I understand everyone’s disappointment with the turnout for our first home game at our stadium since restrictions were lifted.
I’m told that a number of supporters believe the low attendance is down to the way I have decided to handle ticketing this season.
I accept it may be largely responsible, but I would like to explain why the permit system is in place and why it is going to remain in place for the foreseeable future.
I appreciate that many other clubs seem to be taking a different stance but every club has different challenges and I have to do what I believe is right given our club’s circumstances even if that makes me unpopular.
I would like to believe that everyone understands that the club has responsibilities and the health and safety of everyone who attends the stadium on match days is our primary responsibility.
In the past, I have argued strongly and publicly for fans to be allowed into our stadium when I knew the measures we had in place at that time would mitigate the risks to a level that I felt was reasonable.
However, at that time the rules meant no-one could attend and the loss was a financial one. What’s more, our fans who had paid to attend all of the games that season saw just two matches out of twenty three.
The rules have now changed and we have gone from no fans being allowed in to no restrictions at all. I personally think that is going too far too soon.
The number of people catching COVID has increased since Boris removed all restrictions and it will spread very quickly at mass participation events where there are no social distancing measures in place. This time, the costs will be in lives and livelihoods so I think we should all take whatever mitigating measures we can take given our circumstances.
For example, this doesn’t represent the same problem for us as it does other clubs because we have a 10,000 seater stadium and an average attendance of about 3,500.
Therefore, by spreading attendees out, whilst keeping them in their groups, means we can keep one of the most important safety measures in place and still get everyone who wants to attend a match into the stadium.
By having a two stage process, the permit system solves many other issues too. For example, it allows fans to decline a ticket if they have symptoms of COVID and an isolating fan can get a refund or transfer their ticket to someone else.
It will also allow the club to cope if future restrictions are inflicted on the club. I hope I’m wrong but I think there is a high chance that restrictions of some kind will be required at some point during this season.
Our attendance was about 75% of what it normally is for our first game of the season and I appreciate we are in the position where some of our fans are staying away because they don’t feel safe and others are staying away because they don’t like the two stage process.
My position is that if lost revenue is the cost of keeping everyone as safe as I can, then I feel I have to pay that price. Yes the club is desperate for income but not so much so that it will ignore obvious risks to the public.
I also appreciate that not everything at the stadium is back to how it was before the pandemic. There has been too much uncertainty to allow us to hit the ground running.
In the short period of time since it was confirmed we were opening our turnstiles again, we have found it extremely hard to find and retrain staff for those areas where we lost so many of our trained staff during the time that those turnstiles were closed.
I would like to ask for your patience while the club does it’s best to get back to some resemblance of normality during what are the least normal of times.