To mask or not to mask…?

Fans are expected to return to grounds in October

With a return to football for Carlisle United (CUFC) planned for mid-September 2020, the football club has been working very hard on plans for games played behind closed doors and for when supporters are allowed back into the ground; currently this is expected to be some time in October, but is yet to be confirmed.

CUFC launched their draft COVID-19: Spectator Code of Conduct a few days ago and the Carlisle United Supporter Groups (CUSG) played their part in discussions around the content of that document. The main unresolved topic of debate was, however, whether to make the use of face masks/face coverings mandatory for supporters.

At CUOSC we have debated the topic further and as a board our view is outlined below. However, we would like to hear members’ views on the subject before formally discussing the situation further with the club and the other members of CUSG. Ultimately, it will be a club management decision, in conjunction with the Safety Advisory Group.

We are tentatively edging our way back into normal life, the ‘new normal’ as it has been termed. Although outstanding Premier League fixtures were eventually completed, all games were played behind closed doors, with many fringe staff and officials wearing masks at games. The new season has now kicked off in the Scottish Premiership, but there have been issues there with players testing positive and no supporters present at games.

Looking back at the last 3 to four months of no football, with the country in lockdown, over 46k deaths to date, many NHS staff falling foul of the disease themselves in their valiant efforts to save our lives, during which we all spent many months shielding, social distancing, avoiding contact with others all to stop the spread of this killer disease. Now as businesses are opening again, there is a delicate balance to be had between economic recovery and the safety of the population.

It is with this in mind, that our view of whether the wearing of masks/face coverings should be made mandatory, has been shaped. We are all in this together, as a Carlisle family, as a Cumbrian family and as a football family, along with all the other clubs in the country, who have players, staff and supporters all with families of their own to protect. From a club and supporter perspective, the decision is all about respect, responsibility, and plain common sense. After all the hard work and sacrifice, to drop our guard now would be inexcusable.

To quote CUFC CEO Nigel Clibbens on Twitter recently, “We are truly all in this together. How we behave impacts not only on ourselves, but crucially on others – our fellow fans, friends and family”.

We agree with that sentiment. It is our responsibility and it is common sense. To not have that just puts fellow supporters, families, friends and the wider public at unnecessary risk.

We have picked out two recent quotes from Blues supporters to emphasise the point:

On Twitter from Kyle Sproat, CUFC Supporter and CUOSC Board Member, “Sacrificing a bit of atmosphere… …is worth it to ensure others can attend in confidence

And Dan Bell, CUFC Supporter on Twitter, “personally I’d rather not, but if there is a chance it could save someone else’s life, then what’s the problem

Whilst safety concerns are a major driver for making the wearing of masks mandatory, the other major consideration relates to the English Football League (EFL) guidance issued to clubs recently (Please see ), in respect of distancing of supporters within the ground. This guidance is incredibly detailed, some 80 plus pages. The club have prepared their plan for the re-introduction of supporters, which includes bubbles 1m apart and empty rows of seats in between populated rows.

However, the EFL guidance also means that if the club were to allow supporters into the ground without masks/face coverings, the 1m spacing would have to be increased to 2m. Capacity would be halved to just over 2000, whereas, if all supporters were to wear masks, Brunton Park could accommodate our core support of just over 4000.

From an income perspective, this is clearly preferable, given the financial hit the club will take for each game played behind closed doors leading up to the re-introduction of supporters, not to mention the fact that almost all of our loyal and core fanbase would be able to see the games live without having to issue tickets on a rotational basis.

The question around Away Supporters is still to be addressed, but in the interests of safety for people travelling up and down the country and the fact that we will be able to increase the capacity for home supporters if there are no away fans represented, we would advocate that until such time as it is genuinely safe to do so, that away supporters are not allowed into games.

Some loyal supporters will inevitably choose not to return to games if the wearing of masks is not made mandatory. The age demographic of our supporters is wide, and many older or more vulnerable supporters may not feel comfortable returning under these circumstances. Surely, we would hope that putting the health of our fellow supporters and the club staff comes above all else.

Masks are currently mandatory in shops and on public transport and the suspicion is that as time goes on this mandate will become more widely implemented. However, the actions of human beings at football games such as cheering, shouting etc. is a step beyond that of shops and public transport. Shouting and cheering clearly propel drops of saliva into the air where they will travel much further than under normal circumstances, it is inevitable, you cannot avoid it.

We realise that supporters want to go back to normal, but the truth of the matter is, we simply aren’t there yet, we aren’t out of this pandemic and we have to do the best we can for everyone to ensure that we can finally get to a stage where we are back to normal once again.

Of course there is an argument for liberty, freedom and Human Rights, which is totally understandable, but as was the case throughout the entire Pandemic, some of those rights have had to be forsaken in part, in the interests of the health and safety of us all.

In the best interests of all concerned, ‘the choice not to wear a mask’ should not overrule ‘the genuine need and responsibility to keep all concerned safe’. To allow non-masked supporters into games and then to find that we have even 1 positive case as a result, proves that it would not have been worth it; so why put ourselves in that position in the first place?

For those who are exempt on medical grounds from wearing a mask, they wouldn’t need to comply if they show their exemption. It is worth noting the guidance emphasises more than ever before, members of the public must themselves take responsibility for deciding whether or not they should attend an event. This assessment should be based upon their own health status and susceptibility to infections, and that of those in their family or household bubble, together with an assessment of their own attitude to the potential risks. Attending without a mask due to an exemption makes this personal judgement even more important.

Whilst the club can control what happens inside the stadium and around the immediate perimeter, what happens outside before and after the game is harder to regulate. All we can say there is that we would strongly urge supporters to wear their masks on the way into and out of the ground as well as inside.

So, in answer to the original question, to Mask or not to Mask? With more supporters in the ground if we do all wear masks, with the financial health of the club in a better place as a result and with no seemingly justified reason not to, why wouldn’t you?!

Nigel Davidson & CUOSC Board