Penrith AFC first team’s pre-season fixtures will all be played behind closed doors as discussions continue to secure the return of competitive matches in front of spectators.
Blues senior players in all three senior men’s squads have already begun preparations for the new campaign and returned to training, ahead of the club’s first summer first team friendly fixture — against Workington AFC at Frenchfield Park on 8th August.
Penrith officials are continuing to digest the FA’s guidance for the restart of competitive football, a detailed document approved by Public Health England.
This includes the requirement for each club to appoint a designated COVID-19 officer, produce a risk assessment to ensure grounds are more secure in the current climate and consider the management and operation of changing rooms.
Current guidelines state that no spectators will be permitted to attend any pre-season games, which can start from August.
And while the FA has lodged a proposal with the Government for the return of spectators to competitive matches, this is the subject of further discussions and is yet to be approved.
It is envisaged that Northern League Division I and II fixtures will start on Saturday, 5th September, four days after the extra preliminary round of the FA Cup is due to begin, with a 2020-21 season finishing date no later than 15th May.
However, a league spokesman said this week: “The new season…will start when spectators are allowed to attend matches.”
As talks continue, the league’s management committee has announced that a cup competition for first division clubs only will replace the Brooks Mileson Memorial League Cup, ties being played in a straight knockout format with any drawn at 90 minutes going straight to a penalty shootout.
There will be a separate competition for Division II clubs, who include Carlisle City.
There will be no paper programmes produced for competitive fixtures, while squad numbers have been given the green light.
Northern League chairman Glenn Youngman said: “These are unprecedented times for non-league football and we have had to balance a number of issues.
“The priority is to complete league fixtures. The delayed start to the season means there are fewer weeks for fixtures to be arranged.
“But spectators are essential to the livelihood of our clubs, so we hope the issue about when spectators can attend games will be resolved at a national level as quickly as possible so we can make a final decision about the start of the new season.
“I would also like to thank all the staff and volunteers and our clubs who are putting in so much work behind the scenes to prepare for the new season and to make it as safe as possible for players, officials and spectators.
“The decision to run two separate cup competitions for our two divisions has been a difficult one.
“However, we are conscious that clubs have been affected by the loss of income. Running two cup competitions for the two divisions will reduce the pressure on the fixture list while, at the same time, providing much-needed revenue.
“We will keep the progress of the two cup competitions under review during the season.”
The Cumberland FA is expected to make its own decision regarding the playing of the county cup.