Hartley Wintney at Binfield. Photo: Neil Graham / ngsportsphotography.com
Hartley Wintney at Binfield. Photo: Neil Graham / ngsportsphotography.com

‘Goodwill and support from volunteers is essential’ – Fans get back to non-league

Saturday marked the first time supporters were allowed back in non-league grounds since the start of Covid-19
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Hartley Wintney at Binfield. Photo: Neil Graham / ngsportsphotography.com
Hartley Wintney at Binfield. Photo: Neil Graham / ngsportsphotography.com

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Audiences returned to non-league football on Saturday and during this week, 15% of the capacity mind, but return they did.

There was some innovative thinking – like how’d you discourage a club with a four-figure average attendance from attending your step 5 ground after months without a live match – and some sensible decisions made by clubs over the weekend that seemed to go off without to much incident (at least off the pitch).

In our position as a website encouraging people to get involved in their local club, we spoke to Ascot United and Binfield about what they learned from the weekend.

Binfield club secretary Rob Challis said to FiB: “Saturday was volunteer heavy and while we had marked out the ground and bar area we were depending on people to be sensible.”

Binfield's Rob Challis accepts his award for Outstanding Contribution to Local Football. Photo: Neil Graham
Binfield’s Rob Challis accepts his award for Outstanding Contribution to Local Football in 2018. Photo: Neil Graham

Ascot United’s Director of Football Neil Richards added: “Goodwill and support from volunteers is essential, Saturday we hosted five pre-season friendlies in one day (including youth and junior) and couldn’t have done that without the support of our membership and volunteers.”

The Yellamen introduced online ticketing prior to Saturday’s first-team friendly with Vanarama National League Aldershot Town. Using the platform Eventbrite, the club made 125 tickets available for free, but on a first come first serve basis in a bid to meet the 125 person maximum spectator rules: “The events app Eventbrite used for ticketing is an excellent way to manage applications and communicate to spectators. we plan to continue with this for the foreseeable future. We have also used the survey option on the APP to get feedback from yesterday and take learnings.”

Of course, getting fans in is one thing, ensuring they are safe on the day is quite another as Challis said: “Generally all good with a few reminders. The rain shower didn’t help and I had to move people on sometimes. In the bar area, it worked well.”

“We didn’t do player food and for spectators did limited pasties and sausage rolls.”

He added: “What I would say is that we used twice as many volunteers.  So two on the gate, two on Track and Trace (we are using an app from Airspace as well as a manual collection), three on compliance and cleaning throughout the afternoon, two to three on the bar etc so its was a challenge. I’m glad we did it but certainly wasn’t easy!”

Ascot United manager Neil Richards. Photo: Neil Graham.
Ascot United manager Neil Richards. Photo: Neil Graham.

For Ascot, the opposition on the day considerably helped things move smoothly: “Having compliant and organised opposition is essential, as you know we didn’t hesitate in cancelling a game recently as we could come to an agreement with the opposition on the guidelines. Aldershot had a COVID officer who arrived early to site for a briefing and manned the gate with our own staff.

“We are phasing full opening to manage risk, as an example, the clubhouse is still not open but we are serving food and drink from two external areas.”

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