'Wrong message at the wrong time' – Burnley Council leader urges caution over MP's call for football fans to return

Burnley Council leader Mark Townsend does not believe it is the right time to be talking about bringing football fans back to grounds.

Burnley MP Antony Higginbotham raised the issue in Parliament earlier this week, imploring Government to give clubs more freedom in working out how to safely oversee the return of fans.

"Clubs, ultimately, know their fans and their stadiums best and have a long track record in crowd management," said Mr Higginbotham.

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"Government doesn’t need to answer every question or identify every scenario. They just need to give clubs the ability to innovate, control the flow of people, invest in the new infrastructure needed and space fans out safely.

Burnley Council leader Mark Townsend

"That is the only way we will get fans back in any meaningful way."

He added: “We must get fans back into stadiums across the country though. Not just for the economic impact it has, but for all the other reasons too. The atmosphere, the passion and the impact it has on the grassroots.”

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However, Mr Townsend felt the MP was being "irresponsible" in broaching the subject while infection rates remained at their current level.

"The only way to get fans back onto grounds is by getting the rate of infections down, hospitalisation down and deaths down," said Mr Townsend.

"I along with thousands of others can’t wait to get back in the stands but the MP is being irresponsible here by sending completely the wrong message at the wrong time.

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"Infection rates are still above 400/100k and after a better few weeks are going UP again.

"The progress on a vaccine is great news but it is months away from helping to solve this problem. The only way of getting things back to anywhere near normal more quickly is by getting the infections down by all of us following the rules – no exceptions!

"Do that and we can start to look forward to watching live footie again along with all the other things people enjoy.

"Priority now – save lives and don’t overwhelm the NHS."