Boxing Day matches allowed but the future of the sport remains uncertain

Covid passport checks at Elland Road, for last week’s game between Leeds United and Arsenal. Photo Bruce Rollinson

The cabinet has spent the past few days debating the need for additional rules to tackle the coronavirus. These could have impacted football crowds and could still do so next week.

The Welsh Assembly has decided that its sporting events should go behind closed doors from Boxing Day, while Scotland will limit crowds to 500. Welsh restrictions are initially expected to apply until January 7. The next Yorkshire team to go there for league football is Harrogate. Town, due to Newport County on the 15th.

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“The situation remains extremely difficult but I also recognize that people are waiting to know if their Christmas plans are going to be affected,” he said yesterday.

“Of course, we cannot rule out further measures after Christmas, but we do not believe today that there is enough evidence to justify stricter measures before Christmas.”

Even given the vagueness of the term “after Christmas”, it would seem impractical to communicate and enforce restrictions in time for Boxing Day games. Leeds United are in Liverpool for a match which will start at 12.30pm.

The Premier League and Football League have decided this week to play party matches where possible, but only after a slew of postponements.

Barnsley’s home league game against Stoke City and Bradford City’s League 2 game against Harrogate Town have been called off due to Covid-19 among the Stoke and Bradford squads. FC Halifax Town’s match at Grimsby Town has also been postponed.

Sheffield on Wednesday postponed last Saturday’s home game against Accrington Stanley due to infections, so decisions will have to be made soon on whether they will have enough players available on Boxing Day. The same goes for potential Sheffield United hosts Preston North End.

Doncaster Rovers, who also had to postpone, is set to host Sunderland in a televised game on December 27 which could be the first of their next manager or head coach. The League One club began talks with five candidates on Monday. They aim to have interviewed three for a second time and have made a decision by the end of the week.

Meanwhile, it has been reported that the Football Association will not provide free tests to clubs in the Football League and other clubs before the FA Cup third round next month. Last season the governing body paid for teams outside of the top division to undergo PCR testing, but this year cheaper and less accurate lateral flow testing will suffice.

The problem for Premier League clubs facing teams under a lower test level arose during last season’s League Cup, when Hull City was one of many teams to decline the offer of free testing of Premier League opponents.

Premier League clubs are required to undergo PCR testing twice a week in addition to the daily lateral flow tests. Football League clubs should “implement a daily screening program, subject to the availability of lateral flow testing in the supply chain.”

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