A request was made from NIFL, following confirmation of our place in the European Playoffs, as to whether we would be able to allocate 20% of our safe capacity to visiting supporters.
Larne Football Club considered the request and replied to NIFL to say that we would not be able to do so. We explained our reasons in some detail. We have also spoken to our counterparts at Glenavon to explain our position. There are a number of reasons for our refusal based on the current Covid 19 restrictions and the ongoing works at Inver Park.
The club has invested heavily in improving the facilities at Inver Park for both home and away fans and this process is ongoing. We have always provided a warm welcome for visiting supporters and built the The McKay Stand in 2019 in anticipation of welcoming supporters from around the country in our first season back in the Premiership. However, at the moment, we are currently building a new stand at the Church End. This has not only temporarily reduced our capacity, it has also closed the access route away fans would have used for The McKay Stand. This creates practical difficulties in segregating fans accessing the ground. The Church End had also been used for away fans for the County Antrim Shield Semi Final earlier this season where the competing clubs all agreed that a small ticket allocation should have been provided to away fans.
With the Church End of the ground unavailable, our total safe capacity under the current Covid 19 restrictions is reduced to 390. This is split across the Main Stand and terracing and the McKay Stand. We cannot segregate half a stand, and so to segregate the two sets of fans, a whole stand – making up much more than 20% of our capacity – would have to be allocated to away fans. In order to allocate a visiting team 20% of the tickets, the overall number of tickets issued would have to be reduced to much less than 390 to uphold an 80/20 split of home fans and away fans.
We have hugely appreciated the forebearance of our Season Ticket holders in this most challenging of seasons. They have paid for their season tickets without having a chance to attend fourteen home games, and without a guarantee of a seat for any of the others. We have a responsibility to them to ensure we can provide as many of them with tickets for the playoffs as possible, and that makes significantly reducing our capacity below 390 impractical. However, for a high demand match such as this, we will inevitably disappoint a large number of people.
In any normal season, we would love to have welcomed as many Glenavon supporters as possible. This is not a normal season. The reality is, in the matches where fans have been allowed, only a small fraction of those matches across the league have had visiting supporters present. Some high stakes matches have had no away fans present at all. Indeed, most clubs made it clear at the outset of the season that they would not be able to admit away fans due to the restrictions on capacity and the additional stewarding that would be required for compliance, this included all four clubs competing in the playoffs.
No NIFL club advocated the safe return of supporters to matches more strongly than Larne Football Club. Chairman, manager and players alike all came out publicly to support the relaxation of restrictions on spectators at sporting events. We want to see away fans back at all matches, because their attendance adds to the atmosphere. Their attendance brings out the best in home fans too. We recognise the importance of the fans, and we hope that over the summer months that the restrictions will be reduced further so that there are no restrictions on capacities at Irish League grounds and supporters can follow their team home and away week in, week out as normal. However, as is the case at many other grounds, with the current restrictions in place, it is not practical for away fans to attend games at Inver Park.