Derry City fans face waiting game ahead of Bohemians visit to Brandywell
DERRY CITY Football Club has been warned any decision to permit spectators into the Ryan McBride Brandywell Stadium for next week’s Premier Division clash with Bohemians will be ‘informed by the Covid numbers in the area’.
The Brandywell club has held further meetings this week with Derry and Strabane District Council officials to discuss the potential return of fans, however, the local authority has yet to make a decision on whether games will continue behind closed doors at the Lone Moor Road venue.
Should the club get the green light to open the turnstiles for next Friday night’s game, it’s understood the numbers allowed to attend will fall considerably below 500 - the figure agreed by the Northern Ireland Executive for outdoor sporting events when restrictions were eased last month.
A spokesperson for Derry City and Strabane District Council said that: “Council continues to work closely with Derry City FC to facilitate the return of spectators in line with the current guidelines and PHA advice.
“Meetings scheduled in the coming days with the Council, the club and relevant safety authorities will determine whether the match on 11th June can proceed with spectators in attendance.
“The numbers permitted to attend will be agreed based on the Safety Advisory Group’s ratification of the Risk Assessment, and any decision to permit spectators will also be informed by the Covid numbers in the area.”
While the Derry and Strabane District Council area still has the highest Covid-19 rate in the north, the seven day rate has been falling and was today (Thursday) stood at 50.4 cases per 100,000. Covid bed occupancy at Altnagelvin remains very low at just 0.89 per cent according to the latest Department of Health data.
Derry City had hoped fans would be allowed to attend last month’s visit of St Patrick’s Athletic when Stormont cleared the way for spectators to return, however, the N.I Public Health Authority (PHA) recommended supporters should not be permitted due to the high rates of Covid transmission in the city.
At that time the seven day Covid-19 figures in the Derry and Strabane District Council area was at 86.3 cases per 100,000 and while there remains work to be done locally, those cases have dropped considerably while a total of 115,277 people have now received a vaccine dose in the BT48 and BT47 areas.
Sports fans have been in attendance at local GAA matches and at the Brandywell Greyhound track in recent days while Shamrock Rovers has been selected for a trial return of fans, in conjunction with the FAI and the Department of Sport, to watch the champions’ next three home games.
However, while the PHA recommended against the admittance of fans to Brandywell Stadium last month, the authority has now stated that ‘any decision around fans attending future matches lie with the organisers.
“The Public Health Agency (PHA) has been involved in a multi-agency approach to address additional measures that could help reduce the further spread of COVID-19 through transmission within the area,” read a statement.
“During engagement with Derry City and Strabane District Council, PHA advice was sought in relation to spectators being able to attend the football match in the Ryan McBride Brandywell Stadium on Monday 24 May,” it confirmed.
“In consultation with the Department of Health, the PHA advised the Council that as further transmission of the virus could arise from having spectators attending the match it would be better not to have spectators at the planned game.
“In order to address the high rates of COVID-19 transmission in the area, the PHA will continue to work pro-actively with the Council to promote awareness around public health advice through the Council’s various channels as well as linking with local community groups.
“PHA has also been linking with City Centre Initiative (CCI) to help support the promotion of public health guidance targeting businesses, hospitality and retail and has undertaken targeted social media messaging in the Derry and Strabane district to further promote COVID-19 public health guidance.
“In regards to the upcoming clash with Bohemians, the PHA added: “Any decisions around fans attending future matches lie with the organisers. If we all adhere to the guidance, and get vaccinated, it increases the likelihood that events such as football matches can proceed with supporters in attendance.
“In the run-up to the next match (11 June) we will continue to work closely with Derry and Strabane District Council to ensure appropriate public health advice is communicated regularly to the public, and the club will be able to determine appropriate action regarding the attendance of supporters.
“The Public Health Agency provides public health advice in relation to COVID-19 to the relevant local authority and the local authority would then make a determination as to how to proceed.
“Any decision to run public events and how they are managed in terms of attendance is a matter for the respective organising body, and is subject to the regulations which are in place at the time.”
A decision to permit spectators to next week’s match against the ‘Gypsies’ - Derry’s opponents when fans were last in attendance at the ground back in March 2020 - isn’t expected until next week.