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Maidenhead United finally get guidance on National League's plan for new season

Maidenhead United have received guidance on when next season’s National League campaign might kick off and how it could look, with September being pencilled in by the league’s board for a possible return.

The Magpies heard last night (Wednesday) that the board’s amended resolution to end the campaign using a points-per-game (PPG) calculation had been voted through by clubs. The FA’s Council will now be asked to ratify it.

Despite finishing the curtailed campaign third from bottom in March, the PPG method used by the league sees the Magpies leap back above Ebbsfleet United into fourth from bottom and saves them from relegation.

Bury’s demise as a league club has also handed them a welcome reprieve to play at the top level of non league football again next season.

The resolution will see Ebbsfleet, AFC Fylde and Chorley relegated to step two, provided teams at that level can put the protocols in place to stage play-off matches safely and successfully.

For the first time in months club chairman Peter Griffin is looking ahead to football returning with genuine optimism, and he’s confident the Magpies can put together an innovative package of measures which will enable the first team squad to play in front of paying spectators. This, however, would rely on the COVID-19 cases and infection rate continuing to fall across the country and government social distancing restrictions being eased further.

The talk at an online meeting with the National League last week was that matches could possibly be staged with 25/30 per cent of the ground’s capacity. This would enable the Magpies to play in front of around 1,250 fans, something close to their normal gate.

“They’re hoping to have a September start, which I think is quite sensible,” said Griffin. “It is based on their feelings about what’s happening and is in line with what the EFL are thinking as well. There will of course be protocols in place about how we return to training and then football, and, crucially, in terms of match days.

“We don’t think it’s feasible financially to play without crowds, but there could well be protocols in place over the size of crowds. There is talk about it being 25/30 per cent of your capacity for an interim period.

“Whether you operate indoor bars depends on the government policy at the time. We’re already working on plans for York Road. We could have a restricted capacity and still have close to our normal crowd. We’re confident we could do this quite well.

“We’d have to block out every other seat and every other row so you’d have less seats, and we’d ask people not to congregate behind the goals. We have a lot of terracing and plenty of space, but we would have to take a look at the pinch points around the ground. By then the social distancing could be down to one metre anyway.

“I think that clubs should be allowed to be innovative because one size won’t fit all. We could have drinking outside on the terraces, I think that’s an eminently sensible way for people to have a drink and watch the football safely.

“Our ground could be quite well suited to it. We could also go completely cashless so people pay with contactless cards or buy advanced tickets. It’s very easily done. I don’t think it takes too much thinking to see how we could actually do this. So I’m getting more hopeful as we go on.”

Whatever is decided in the coming months, and Griffin is becoming more confident of a return to York Road in the early autumn, the Magpies will have to abide by advice issued by government and the FA. A second wave or rise in COVID-19 infections could send the football world, and the country in general, back to the drawing board.

“It all depends on what happens in the wider public in terms of infections,” said Griffin. “If there’s a second spike and we go into the scenario where we’re having to restrict things again then the football season won’t start at all or, if it’s started, it would have to stop.

“That’s the big worry, but it’s a worry for everyone, not just for football clubs. It’s what every hospitality business or shop fears. But, if the numbers continue to decline and there’s not a second spike then managing events in line with safe working is the way to do it and I have no doubt we could do that at York Road.”

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