Tier 3 rule change paves way for Non League football return

A limited number of fans in Tier 3 areas will be able to spectate non-elite sporting events, according to new guidance from the FA.

The FA has announced that a limited number of spectators will be permitted to stadiums currently under Tier 3 restrictions, helping to pave the way for the return of Non League Football as soon as January (in theory).

“We have today received approval from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) for a limited return of home spectators to be permitted at clubs competing in the National League System (NLS), Women’s Football Pyramid (WFP)and Buildbase FA Vase if they are situated in Tier 3 areas,” the FA announced.

“We have worked continuously alongside the DCMS, Sports Grounds Safety Authority and leagues to gain approval and clubs competing in Steps 3-6 of the NLS, Tiers 3-6 of the WFP and Buildbase FA Vase that are situated in Tier 3 areas are now permitted to accommodate home spectators up to 15 percent of their ground grading capacity in line with Stage 1 of our respective guidelines for the NLS or WFP.”

What this means in practical terms for Sussex football:

All of Sussex is currently under Tier 2 lockdown restricitons, meaning that fans can already be admitted to non league grounds, but decisions made my national bodies have put pause on leagues acorss the land. The latest ruling could change this.

The Isthmian League recently ruled that whilst the majority of its clubs were under Tier 2 restrictions (and therefore could admit fans) issues regarding clubs traveling to and from Tier 3 areas and unfair disparity in matchday income meant that the safest course of action was to suspend all league activity.

This latest announcement, however, would mean that clubs throughout the non league pyramid would be able to secure crucial turnstile receipts regardless of restriction level. 

Naturally the return of fans to grounds in Tier 3, and indeed Tier 2, areas will be subject to various safety and distancing measures – much as was the case before the latest lockdown.

“It is extremely important that spectators remain in their household or social bubble in groups of six, do not mix with any other spectator groups, or travel between Tiers to attend fixtures, as enforceable by law. If breaches of spectator limits or social distancing are reported, clubs and leagues may face returning to fixtures being held behind closed doors.”

Whilst this announcement does not directly signal the return of non league football, it is to be expected that leagues and their relevant stakeholders will meet in due course to discuss a timely return of the beautiful game to our land.

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