Paul Barber ‘very disappointed we’ve gone backwards’ in fight against Covid-19

Brighton chief executive Paul Barber has labelled the decision to delay the return of fans to football “a gigantic step back”.

Premier League clubs are currently under pressure to help provide a bail-out package for those below them in the football pyramid whose very existence is under threat following last week’s decision to keep the turnstiles, which were due to re-open on a limited basis from October 1, closed.

However, Barber is adamant that the big boys must be able to sustain themselves before they can consider helping others.

Premier League Fan Return File PhotoPremier League Fan Return File Photo
Fans returned to the Amex Stadium – at a social distance – on August 29

Speaking on BBC Radio 5 Live, he said: “Football is so important to the country. It’s our national sport, it’s a pastime for millions of people right the way from the top of the country to the bottom, and we’re very, very disappointed that we’ve gone backwards.

“On August 30, we staged a pilot event. We had 2,500 people in our stadium for a friendly match against Chelsea, we put in place at great cost a huge amount of mitigation measures, as directed by the Sports Grounds Safety Authority and the Government. We complied with every single request.

“We got overwhelming support from the fans that were in the stadium saying how safe they felt, how enjoyable it was for them to be back in the stadium, and now we’ve taken a gigantic step back.

“We’re being asked to support the football pyramid, but what we’re asking for is to be able to sustain our own businesses to put us in a better position to be able to do that.”

Brighton, like most Premier League clubs, did not take advantage of the Government’s furlough scheme, preferring instead to rely upon their own income – broadcast revenue remains intact – to sustain around 2000 jobs.

However, with normal match-days bringing around £200million a year into the local economy, the delay on allowing spectators back into stadia represents a significant blow to the wider community.

Barber acknowledged the difficulties facing lower-league clubs as talks continue between the Premier League and the EFL, but reiterated that his priority had to be Brighton.

He said: “The most important thing right now is for Premier League clubs to do their best to continue to pay their own bills and to look after the jobs of the staff that they employ.

“Obviously, we’re very, very concerned about the football pyramid, we’re very concerned about the smaller clubs that not only are not benefiting from the TV income that we’re benefiting from, but obviously from the lack of gate receipts which are so important to them, that’s a real concern to us.

“At our club, we’ve spent 111 of our 119-year history in the EFL, so we’re very aware of how difficult it is to operate at that level.

“But right now, my priority as the chief executive of Brighton is to make sure we maintain the near-2000 jobs that I’m directly responsible for in this football club, in this city. That’s got to be my first priority. It’s my legal responsibility to do that.

“But I’m also very, very aware of our wider responsibility to help where we can and, of course, if we can, we will.”

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