Inside football’s ‘Red Zone’ as clubs fight to survive without supporters

Crawley Town is a club dealing with a crisis in unprecedented times.

They are a small League Two club now facing a weekly challenge to survive with no fans allowed and only red signs within the stadium because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Mirror Sport was given unique access to what it is really like within the “Red Zone” of a football club which is normally reserved for players, managers and directors.

The media are normally kept in the Amber Zone in this era of protocols and behind-closed-doors games but, having had a coronavirus test to get the all clear, we were given an access all areas to the The People's Pension Stadium.

The stadium has a capacity of 6,000 but currently there is no sign of fans coming back any time soon and, like for many EFL clubs, they are being kept afloat by their owner.

But it was also a fascinating look at the obstacles without fans and the surreal sight of their appointed coronavirus officer having to sanitise the pitch after an opposing player spat out his drink just before the start of the second half.

The officials insisted they would not restart last Saturday’s game with Southend until the mess was not only cleaned up, but they had sprayed it and wiped down the pitch with special disinfectant gel.

These are crazy times in which Crawley stand to lose up to £750,000-a-season in gate receipts as they are by no means one of the division’s biggest clubs with Bradford City perhaps facing the biggest hardship as they have the biggest crowds and wage bill.

Crawley have had to reduce their directors’ lounge – such as it is – and section it off with rows of chairs so the away team’s substitutes can get changed while also maintaining social distancing.

The showers have red signs to stop the players showering too close together while only 10 guests from the opposing club are allowed at any one game with just six allowed to eat.

Their 600 season ticket holders get free access to the EFL’s iFollow streaming service while an extra 130 fans bought passes for the recent game at Scunthorpe.

But hospitality revenue has disappeared, that is worth £40,000-a-year while the tea bars are worth £40,000-a-year and instead you can hear every shout, every scream and every kick during the game while watching from the directors’ box.

Everyone in masks, of course.

Manager John Yems admitted: “We have to make our own atmosphere, our own income and everything else for that matter.”

Yems actually thinks it was easier to win at Oldham last month because they went 1-0 down, the home crowd would normally get behind them but there was no-one there and Crawley came back to win 3-2.

Similarly, Crawley went 1-0 up against Southend but ran out of steam and the visitors salvaged a point with a late equaliser.

Crawley are simply not fully fit, three rounds of testing in a disrupted pre-season has seen to that and, after the game, the roll call of injuries is presented. One player has hurt his thumb, it might be fractured but then there is a dilemma and risk of going to A&E. No private hospitals at this level.

Clubs are trying to do their best, Crawley have tried to bolster their live iFollow games with extra programming to try and pull in the numbers.

But the extra cost is crippling them.

The recent trip to Oldham cost £5,000 because these days you have to use extra coaches, the players can no longer share rooms on away trips and if it was not for the owner Ziya Eren then the club would not be able to survive.

These are anxious times.

Crawley have also been given little assurance… other than the latest EFL meeting finished with two messages:

  • 1. The Premier League bail out package WILL be delivered
  • 2. They WILL finish the season and they will not go into hibernation

Erdem Konyar, the club’s technical director and advisor to the chairman, said: “Our biggest challenge this year is just to survive.

"It’s a crazy year. But it’s a very challenging season.”

Yet despite everything, Konyar believes the club will stay afloat even if it is only the owner’s own personal fortune which is keeping them alive.

Konyar said: “For me personally, he’s like a father to me. He’s backed this club with every pound.

"We could have done better sometimes in previous years but he’s never stopped supporting, always paid wages on time and the club’s in a good place.”

Sadly, not every club has such a rich sugar daddy.

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