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Return to football: Still quite a way from where we want to be

Action from Holywell Town 2019-20. Picture by Lee Douglas

A return to competitive senior football in Wales for clubs in tiers 2-5 is highly unlikely until mid-November at the earliest.

That was the message to emerge from this week’s FAW’s ‘Safer Return to Play Protocols for Phase 3 – Stages 1 & 2’ announcement, which will be effective from this Monday (September 21).

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, all senior football league activity across Wales was halted in March.

During the summer, the FAW introduced a four-phase return-to-football programme which has now reached stage 3.

While the top flight Cymru Premier League – classed under ‘elite athlete status’ – has been allowed to restart matches this month, albeit all behind closed doors, tiers 2-5 clubs are currently permitted training sessions only.

For the weeks commencing September 21 and 28 (Stage 1 and 2), senior, youth, veterans and walking football clubs are allowed outdoor contact training for up to 2 groups of 15 players and coaches (total 30).

From weeks starting October 5 and 12 (Stages 3 and 4 – the second week subject to change) intra-club training matches are permitted within a 30 person limit. (intra-club means within the same club – e.g first team v reserves).

Week beginning October 19 (Stage 5 – subject to change) friendly matches will be permitted against other teams, however……

Games can take place against fellow league teams only
No spectators, max one coach and first-aider per team
Limited number of substitutes and game length.

These friendlies can be played over a three-week period and local lockdown restrictions may impact who clubs are able to play.

Stage 6 could see league and cup matches resume, but no date has been mooted for that scenario. The FAW states season structure would need to be flexible and there will be no spectators allowed.

The same conditions as the above relating to senior, youth, veterans and walking football also mainly apply to age groups 12 to 16 and academies.

Under 6 to 11 age groups, including club academies, can start playing friendlies from Stages 1 and 2 (weeks starting September 21 and 28).

Under Welsh Government rules, a further increase in the 30-person limit would be required for Welsh football to continue to progress at stage 3 (intra-club friendlies).

This number is particularly limiting for 11 v 11 matches and competitions to return. There would need to be an amendment to match-day officials being included within the 30-person limit.

Currently, they are included meaning an 11 v 11 match with 3 substitutes each team, 1 referee and a coach and first aider for each team would exceed the 30-person limit.

If the Cymru Premier restart runs smoothly, it will boost the chances of lower level competitive football returning quicker.

For more details on the return to football progress log on to: faw.cymru/en/

Clubs are advised to read up on the latest COVID-19 regulations, which the FAW updates on its website regularly.

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