Crowds will attend football matches in England this weekend for the first time in five months, though it’s a stretch to call them such. While Premier League clubs and those in the five divisions below are hoping to get some supporters back as soon as possible, matches will be played behind closed doors until October 1 at the earliest when the 2020-21 season has already started. Only the clubs in the seventh level and below can welcome fans back. With average crowds of 1,700 last season, FC United of Manchester are the biggest club in England to be permitted to admit supporters into the ground. The rebel club formed by Manchester United fans in 2005 as a protest against the Glazer takeover also have 20,490 Weibo followers in China and there’s good news for them, if not the majority of FC’s fans wanting to attend their games. FC will play a friendly against Football League newcomers Barrow on Saturday and another against fan-owned City of Liverpool a week later, but what could be a financial shot in the arm to save small clubs brings more problems than solutions. Wigan Athletic lose appeal over points deduction following Hong Kong-owned administration FC are allowed 300 socially-distanced fans in their home ground against Barrow, a number which will increase to 600 if Saturday is successful. “We have 800 season ticket holders and we’re aiming to sell 1,100,” explained chairman Adrian Seddon. “But the way the figures have been worked out isn’t fair or about safety. We’ll be allowed 30 per cent of the capacity not of our own home, but of the smallest allowable in the league. We’ll only be allowed 600 into a ground that holds 4,700.” Financially, things are tight. The season ticket money funds the playing budget and FC’s part-time players earn between £100 and £300 per week, with almost all of them only paid when they play. Players will be paid, but the new rules, introduced overnight with little notice to clubs, have absurd twists. Bury AFC, the phoenix club which is likely to be well supported by fans of Bury FC who ceased playing football last year after over 100 years, will play games at non-league Radcliffe after starting again at level 10. Despite using the same stadium with the same stewards and bar staff, Radcliffe will be allowed crowds of 600 as they play in a higher league, while the likely to be better supported Bury are allowed just 300. Wigan Athletic and the Hong Kong-based mystery: finger-pointing, the Philippines and EFL failings “It’s this or nothing, take it or leave it approach which irks,” Seddon said. “They (the UK Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) are not bothered about individual circumstances. We did a full Covid risk assessment and our safety advisory group was happy with it. But football is treated differently to other areas of the leisure industry. The capacity of pubs and restaurants, for example, is linked to their size.” So FC can let 300 fans in, but games are now allowed to be streamed for the first time. “We’ll let volunteers in for free on Saturday,” Seddon said. “We’ll have no facilities ready as the ground has been mothballed for five months. This will be our test event.” Those volunteers turned part of their ground into a food hub for the local north Manchester community during lockdown. Food, including crisps and chocolate, which should have been sold by Manchester City at games but was approaching its sell-by date, was regularly delivered to 200 neighbours. Fans want to return across Manchester, fellow non-league side Trafford sold out their friendly on Saturday in just five hours after selling tickets online for the first time. A lot of clubs lived on the edge, financially. [The furlough scheme] mothballed clubs, but that ends in a month. Clubs will then have all the expenses but no revenue Adrian Seddon, FC United chairman Their clubs need them. It’s hard for clubs without the Premier League’s TV millions, who rely on the money from match-going fans to survive. The National League (England’s fifth and sixth division) will ask the government to let a limited number of fans in. And why not if they socially distance? “Even in normal times, a lot of clubs lived on the edge, financially,” Seddon said. “[The furlough scheme] (where the UK government paid 80 per cent of businesses wages) mothballed clubs, but that ends in a month. Clubs will then have all the expenses but no revenue.” Some have already fallen. Droylsden FC, located equidistant between Manchester City and FC United, and formed in 1892, resigned from all leagues this month citing loss of revenue because of Covid-19 . In and around Manchester, Bury went to the wall a year ago, Bolton Wanderers nearly went under but survived to play on in the fourth tier of English football. Macclesfield Town has been an example of how not to run a football club. Fans who invest their emotions and money into a club suffer under unscrupulous owners. Supporters of Wigan Athletic, who won the FA Cup in 2013, are concerned about the future of their club. Weeks after buying it, Hong Kong businessman Au Yeung Wai-kay put the Championship side into administration on July 1, leading to a 12-point deduction and relegation. He has agreed to waive the £36m owed to him by the club, who are yet to find a buyer and may not be able to start the new season if a deal is not completed. If fans are allowed back in, Wigan will become more attractive to any prospective purchaser. Football has survived as a screen sport throughout lockdowns but it has no soul without the fans who fill its stadiums.