Kingstonian FC: Handling the return of fans

Every industry in this country has been affected in one way or another by the Covid-19 pandemic and the football industry is no different.

However, while the Premier League and Football League clubs squabble over bailouts worth millions, clubs like non-league Kingstonian are worried about the basics – how to make watching football safe.

For months the club were in limbo, unsure if and when the 2020/21 season would begin, but now, three games into a new campaign, they have a privilege that other clubs at higher levels do not.

Fans are allowed to come and watch them play in person. 

When football ground to a halt in March, along with the rest of the country, it was decided very quickly that all leagues from step three of the non-league pyramid and below were to be declared null and void meaning the 2019/20 season would not count.

At the time Kingstonian were 10th in the table and 15 points outside the playoff places, albeit with three games in hand on 5th placed Carshalton Athletic and plenty of football left to be played.

An optimistic fan would have argued they still had a chance at promotion but, unlike in the Football League and National League, they were not given a chance to play for it.

Safety measures

The first and biggest problem with having spectators is how to make it safe for them.

Communications officer at Kingstonian, Robert Woolridge, says the club have taken a number of steps to keep everyone safe. This includes encouraging fans to buy tickets online and carrying out temperature checks upon entry.

The club also provides hand sanitiser and has a one-way system in place to avoid people congregating. 

“We have also introduced a one-way system that means you can’t walk into the bar going past the boardroom as this otherwise would put one of these pinch points in play,” Woolridge says.

Furthermore, as the PA announcer, Woolridge is encouraged to remind people to social distance and to ask people to be patient.

In terms of the success that these measures are having Woolridge says: “I haven’t been to many away games yet this season so I’m not able to compare fairly, but I think that a good job is being done in these trying circumstances.”

With these safety measures in place and higher levels of football not allowed to have spectators, Kingstonian have seen a small increase in attendees so far this season.

They had 417 spectators for their opening league fixture against Worthing and 366 in for their most recent home game against Hornchurch. It is difficult to say whether this is a direct result of being one of the only clubs in the area that has the ability to host fans.

Hope for the club 

In recent days it has become clear that many clubs at much higher levels are fearing for their future as they are unable to have fans.

On the other hand, the fact they can have fans has meant Kingstonian are more financially stable at present.

Woolridge states that the club is probably benefitting from being tenants at King George’s Field rather than owning their own stadium.

He says: “We don’t have to worry so much about overheads and we additionally don’t have the headache of not being able to hire out the bar or the pitch for corporate use as they are not ours to hire out.”

For now, the club can play their games in front of fans but they will be keeping an eye on how tightening lockdown restrictions may affect football.

With London entering a Tier 2 lockdown the club are working closely with football authorities and their landlord to make sure they are able to continue having spectators in a safe capacity.

Should the country enter a second national lockdown, football will be affected at all levels and it may mean continuing games behind closed doors at all levels or even another pause.

On this note, Woolridge says: “It’s a case of carrying on as what passes for normal at the moment until we are forced to cross this particular bridge.”

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