September Start Planned For Return

Sat 18th July 2020 | Announcements
By Martin Fallon

The NWCFL could have competitive games being played as early as the start of September under plans released by the Football Assocation earlier today.

The FA have confirmed that the UK Government has approved its plan for the return of outdoor grassroots football late last night, Friday 17 July 2020. As a result, the grassroots football community now has the opportunity to return to football and prepare for the start of the new season.

The FA has been working hard over recent weeks to prepare guidelines for the safe return of grassroots football. Following Government approval, football activity can take place with necessary modifications in place to mitigate the transmission risk of COVID-19.

The FA have this morning distributed via leagues two documents, these being the The FA Guidance on the safe return of competitive training and matches and NLS Club Guidance for clubs in the National League System. Both guidance documents are required to be observed by all Clubs.

The FA Guidance is the framework approved by Public Health England enabling all competitive football to return, recommended to start with training and friendlies from August. The NLS Guidance provides Clubs additional guidance to enable NLS Leagues to commence. The NLS Guidance supplements The FA Guidance, which must be adhered to by all Clubs.

Dedicated guidance has been developed for clubs with teams competing in the men’s National League System (NLS). The FA and the Leagues are aiming for a September start of competitive matches in the NLS, however, this is subject to change in accordance with Government guidance and approval for paying spectators.

  • Step 1 & 2: No earlier than Saturday, 5th September 2020; 
  • Steps 3 & 4: Saturday, 19th September 2020;
  • Steps 5 & 6: From Saturday 5th September 2020;

In addition, the FA have always committed to do whatever possible to ensure all FA Competitions – and the accessibility of NLS Clubs in them – was a priority in their Scenario Planning and this was always conditional on when we were able to restart the NLS. September does allow for – in principle – the full inclusion of Clubs. Key dates are as follows:

  • FA Cup Extra Preliminary Round: Tuesday, 1st September 2020; 
  • FA Cup Preliminary Round: Saturday, 12th September 2020;
  • FA Vase 1st Qualifying Round: Saturday, 19th September 2020
  • FA Vase 2nd Qualifying Round: Saturday, 10th October 2020;

There are some key considerations that clubs need to adhere to in order to help football restart.

COVID-19 Officer: All Clubs will need to appoint a COVID-19 Officer from their Board or Trustees. This person will have responsibility to ensure that Club Risk Assessments are completed and actions undertaken.

Risk Assessments: All Clubs will need to undertake a Risk Assessment on how they can implement appropriate measures to reduce the risk of transmission. The Risk Assessment must include all six areas highlighted in the guidance notes. A template Risk Assessment has been provided by The FA for clubs to work through, which is in the Appendix of the document.

This Risk Assessment is the tool to ensure Clubs consider all aspects of their Ground to be more secure. Clubs ground sharing must liaise with the host Club to create a Risk Assessment relevant to the standing of the Club the document is intended for. 

All Clubs must publish their Risk Assessment and/or their COVID-19 Action Plans on their Club Website by Saturday, August 15th and notify their League that this has been completed.

Changing Rooms: Clubs must give particular attention to the management and operation of Changing Rooms to minimise their use or numbers within them at any one time.

Spectators: The FA have a specific proposal lodged with DCMS, with oversight from the Sports Ground Safety Authority, on the return of Spectators at NLS Grounds. This is yet to be approved and as such, any pre-season fixture must be, until advised otherwise, planned to be behind closed doors.

The FA are aware of the announcements by the Prime Minister on Friday, 17th June regarding the return of spectators to elite sport and have requested clarity on the impact of this on their proposal.

A return to competitive football should only happen once clubs and facility providers have completed the necessary risk assessments and comprehensive plans are in place.

The roadmap that the FA have recommended for the phased return to competitive football activity as follows:

  • Until 31 July – Competitive training, with the overall group size (inclusive of coaches) being limited to 30 people; This is what most clubs have been doing at present.
  • From August – Competitive matches to begin, for example pre-season fixtures, festivals and small sided football competitions; 
  • From September – Grassroots leagues, men’s National League System, Women’s Football Pyramid tiers 3 to 6, and FA Competitions can commence.

A summary of key points to consider from The FA’s guidelines are listed for ease below:

  • Everyone should self-assess for COVID-19 symptoms before every training session or match. If you are symptomatic or living in a household with possible or actual COVID-19 infection you must not participate or attend;
  • Clubs and facility providers should ensure that their facility is compliant with current Government legislation and guidance related to COVID-19;
  • Competitive training is now permitted, with groups limited to a maximum of 30 people, including coaches;
  • Competitive match play is permitted, with social distancing in place before and after the match, and in any breaks in play;
  • Players and officials should sanitise hands before and after a game as well as scheduled breaks throughout a game or training session;
  • Ball handling should be kept to a minimum with most contact via a boot and the ball disinfected in breaks of play;
  • Youth football coaches are encouraged to limit persistent close proximity of participants during match play and training;
  • Goal celebrations should be avoided;
  • Equipment should not be shared, and goalkeepers should ensure they disinfect their gloves regularly in breaks in training or matches and thoroughly afterwards. Where possible, coaches should only handle equipment in training;
  • Where possible, players, coaches and officials should arrive changed and shower at home. Use of changing and shower facilities must follow government advice on the use of indoor facilities;
  • Participants should follow best practice for travel including minimising use of public transport and walking or cycling if possible. People from a household or support bubble can travel together in a vehicle
  • Clubs should keep a record of attendees at a match or training session, including contact details, to support NHS Test and Trace;
  • Clubs should ensure they are affiliated with their County Football Association.

Please note that at this stage, indoor football and futsal is not permitted. The FA will look to work with indoor facility providers to develop appropriate guidance for indoor formats as soon as possible.

James Kendall, Director of Football Development at The FA, said:

“We are delighted that the Government has given the go-ahead for competitive grassroots football to return. The past few months have been some of the most challenging times not just for football, but across society, and today’s news will be welcomed by the grassroots football community all over the country.

“Now that we are able to look ahead to the new season, it’s crucial that we continue to do all we can to follow safety measures, both as advised by the government and specifically for football.

“I would encourage anyone returning to competitive grassroots football to take the time to read this guidance, prepare thoroughly and to adopt our recommended approach to phasing football back in. I would also like to thank you for playing your vital part in helping our great game to get going again.”

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