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Paul Barber ‘very disappointed we’ve gone backwards’ in fight against Covid-19

Paul Barber File Photo
(Image credit: Gareth Fuller)

Brighton chief executive Paul Barber believes football’s efforts to fight back against coronavirus took “a gigantic step back” when plans to allow fans to return were put on ice.

The Premier League club staged a successful pilot in August as a scheduled limited reopening of stadia loomed, but a delay has since been ordered following a surge in cases.

Speaking on BBC Radio 5 Live as the debate over whether top-flight clubs should help those below them in the football pyramid continues, Barber said: “Football is so important to the country.

“It’s our national sport, it’s a pastime for millions of people right the way from the top of the country to the bottom, and we’re very, very disappointed that we’ve gone backwards.

“On August 29, we staged a pilot event. We had 2,500 people in our stadium for a friendly match against Chelsea, we put in place at great cost a huge amount of mitigation measures, as directed by the Sports Grounds Safety Authority and the Government. We complied with every single request.

Premier League Fan Return File Photo

Fans returned to the Amex Stadium – at a social distance – on August 29

“We got overwhelming support from the fans that were in the stadium saying how safe they felt, how enjoyable it was for them to be back in the stadium, and now we’ve taken a gigantic step back.

“We’re being asked to support the football pyramid, but what we’re asking for is to be able to sustain our own businesses to put us in a better position to be able to do that.

“We think we can do it safely, we think that we can do it with people’s health absolutely paramount, but it’s absolutely vital that we’re able to sustain our own businesses if we are being asked to help others.”

Barber pleaded with ministers to allow Premier League clubs to given the opportunity to sustain themselves by being allowed to open the turnstiles once again.

He said: “We have not asked for any direct Government support, most Premier League clubs have totally avoided the use of the furlough scheme, we have not benefited from Government grants or loans.

“We have literally tried to stand on our own two feet while also helping the NHS and doing all we can in our community to help them through this very, very difficult time.

“We’re being hit here from all directions. We’re not being permitted to run our own businesses to generate our own income, we’re supporting where we can the Government’s messages and everything else they’re asking us to do, but at the same time, we’re also being asked to help others.

“It doesn’t seem quite right. We’re simply asking to be able to put our businesses back in some kind of shape where we can actually sustain local jobs and continue to support where we can.”