Doncaster Rovers CEO talks surprise and anger at decision to continue shut out of fans

Doncaster Rovers chief executive Gavin Baldwin says the club was surprised and somewhat angered when plans for the return of supporters to stadiums were halted by the government.

By Liam Hoden
Saturday, 10th October 2020, 4:00 pm
Updated Tuesday, 13th October 2020, 2:05 pm

Clubs throughout the country had been working on plans to ensure a reduced number of fans could return to grounds in a safe manner from October 1 for the first time since early March.

But the government cancelled the proposed return date, as well as a series of pilot events, citing a rising Covid-19 infection rate.

Baldwin is confident the procedures and plans drawn up by his staff would have and still could ensure a very safe environment for supporters

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So as supporters remain shut out from grounds across the country, denying clubs vital revenues, the frustration only grows for those in his position.

“We believe with the steps we put in place and the team, we’ve got, to come to the stadium would have been an extremely safe experience - and probably a lot safer than some of the activities that people do with their social life or sectors that have been allowed to reopen,” Baldwin told the Free Press.

“We were surprised and probably a bit angered if we’re being honest.

“It felt like sport was being singled out. To be fair to the EFL, the way they’ve regulated and managed us, we’d all come together to try to secure really good events.

“The Shrewsbury pilot in particular demonstrated that football can manage it.

“What we don’t understand is why non-league clubs can have 600 fans and we can’t have any.”

The EFL this week launched a petition to the government to allow football fans to attend matches at all levels of the game. At the time of publication to number of signatures had passed the 180,000 mark.

“I think it was a very easy option to cancel the pilots because I genuinely feel that the steps we were putting in at the stadium meant you were as safe as anywhere,” he said.

“Some of the arguments that were put forward, such as away fans using public transport etc, - the solution to that is, as much as we don’t like it, we don’t have away fans.

“I’m not sure they looked for every solution going before cancelling it. It may just be that it was the easiest option.

“Also, if they want the general public to behave, maybe using football is a very good way of getting their attention.”

Rovers had already started work engaging supporters about returning to Keepmoat and were confident in the work that had been done to prepare the Keepmoat for the safe return of fans.

Baldwin said: “The club had started communication to supporters about bubbles and we continue to do that.

“We worked closely with the safety officer Sam Ramsden, who started liaising with the local SAG [Safety Advisory Groups] and we were very comfortable that we were working towards a position where we could get as close to the 33 per cent capacity as possible and be able to look after our season ticket holders at the bare minimum.

“We were liaising with clubs that have run the pilot, particularly Shrewsbury, who we’ve got a great relationship with and who had done very well. So we were taking advice from their team, their ticket office and safety officer.“We were looking forward to the first game back where we would pay tribute to those that had been affected by Covid but also turn it into a bit of a party and have the feel-good factor.

“The staff base from the players to the staff, to the owners were genuinely excited about it.

“It’s come as a bit of a blow, not just financially but emotionally as well.”

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