Derry City could be first League of Ireland club to see fans return

DERRY CITY could be the first League of Ireland club to welcome supporters back through the turnstiles as early as this summer!

Friday, 26th February 2021, 7:08 am
The Ryan McBride Brandywell Stadium could see the return of fans this summer, subject to a review of the current Covid-19 restrictions with the N.I Executive set to announce its Roadmap to Recovery next Monday.

It’s understood the FAI won’t stand in the club’s way should the N. Ireland Executive permit reduced attendances at outdoor stadiums when they review restrictions on March 18th next, even if tighter measures remain in place in the south.

Should Stormont choose to follow a similar roadmap as UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson who plans for a return to football stadiums at reduced capacities from May 17th, then the decision to allow fans into Brandywell Stadium will ultimately be in the hands of Derry City and Strabane District Council.

A spokesperson for Derry City and Strabane District Council who own the stadium, said that, “Council is complying fully with the guidance set out by the FAI in relation to not permitting fans to the games. In the event that the FAI revise its position, the Council will review accordingly.”

Sources in the FAI have now suggested Derry would get the green light to allow fans through the turnstiles, providing the association’s Covid guidelines and social distancing measures were in place.

Up to 500 supporters were allowed into some League of Ireland grounds last season in areas under Level Two restrictions in the south while just 200 fans were allowed into grounds in Dublin as the county never managed to get out of Level Three.

At no point, however, were fans allowed into Brandywell Stadium following the resumption of the league on July 31st last year.

Therefore Derry fans will wait with bated breath for an update from the NI Executive who are set to publish their own Roadmap to Recovery next Monday.

Fans haven't been allowed into Brandywell Stadium since February 28th 2020.

Should Stormont allow fans back into outdoor stadiums by this summer, Derry City could be the only League of Ireland club to have home support given the Republic of Ireland’s more cautious approach.

Derry City manager, Declan Devine believes the Brandywell club will do everything in its power to allow the safe return of spectators to the Lone Moor Road venue.

“There’s not one person associated with Derry City Football Club who doesn’t want the fans back in the stadium,” said the City boss.

“They’re every bit as important as the players, myself and everyone else at the club. The second factor is it has to be 100 per cent safe for the fans to be allowed back in.

“But we have a big stadium. I don’t know if we can use half of it or a quarter of it but as soon as we can get back to some sense of normality and have our supporters behind us it will be fantastic."

“It is two different jurisdictions we’re under and we were punished by circumstance in certain aspects last year with the public health authorities.

“Anything that can be done to get fans back in the ground, Philip O’Doherty and the Board of Directors I’m sure will be the first to try and push that.

“The reality is football without fans is just not the same and I can’t wait for the day when we have bodies back on those seats helping the players and helping myself try to win football matches.”

Meanwhile Derry City’s Head of Match Day Operations and Event Controller, Billy Scampton, insists his matchday management team at Brandywell are fully trained and qualified to ensure the safety of those in the ground should the decision be taken to allow fans into the ground this summer.

“All the senior matchday management team at Brandywell including myself, have completed the Covid Compliance Officer course with Sport Ireland,” he said.

“I’ve also completed the Covid-19 Safety in Sports Grounds course and Social Distancing course with the Sports Ground Safety Authority in England,” he added.

“So we have a very highly trained and qualified matchday management team at Brandywell who have all the certificates in place for when the decision is taken. But it’s a safety first decision and I’m more than happy with that and as far as I’m aware the club are too.”

The Brandywell Stadium has a capacity of around 3,700 and Mr Scampton claims lots of factors would need to be taken into consideration before fans would be safely accommodated for.

“There would have to be social distancing at the ground and other measures in place which will have to looked at very seriously and management systems put in around that.

“For instance, how do people get access into the ground? You can’t have them touching turnstiles because of the high risk of virus transfer. So there’ are lots of different factors that need to be taken into consideration first.”