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Red and White Army write to local MPs

After it was agreed at a meeting of elected and co-opted representatives, Red and White Army (RAWA) are backing the Football Supporters’ Association’s call for financial support for football clubs in the EFL and a return of supporters to grounds as soon as its safe to do so.

RAWA have written to local MPs in Sunderland and the surrounding areas with the following.

Dear …….MP,

The Red and White Army (RAWA) are an independent, democratically structured, Sunderland football supporters’ group. We aim to represent Sunderland fans through structured dialogue with SAFC and we affiliate to the Football Supporters’ Association, the national body for football fans. We are currently in the process of converting to a Community Benefit Society or Supporters’ Trust.

We are writing to you to express some of the concerns and fears that football supporters throughout the country have about the future of their clubs.

We fully accept that public health comes first, and we must comply with any localised measures to stop the spread of the virus. However, the impact of Covid in the English Football League (EFL) and lower leagues is now threatening the very existence of many football clubs. These are institutions that have been the hub of their communities for generations and they could disappear in the coming months.

A huge amount of work has gone into preparing stadiums for the return of supporters, albeit at a reduced capacity. On a national level the Sports Ground Safety Authority have provided detailed guidance, considering all government advice.

At a local level, representatives of RAWA have attended meetings with the club and witnessed first-hand the tireless, painstaking work that dedicated staff have undertaken to make the Stadium of Light as safe a place as possible to watch football.

Football clubs have been held to higher standards than any other in preparation for what would be hugely reduced capacities in an open-air venue. And whilst local lockdown rules supersede any immediate return of fans at the Stadium of Light we would like it to be known that many supporters have a real desire to get back to supporting their club as soon as it is safe to do so. We hope you will support the return of fans to the SoL as soon as we move out of local restrictions.

We would like to place on the record our backing of The Football Supporters’ Association’s call for financial support from government for EFL clubs to help ease the loss of matchday revenue. Action must be taken to prevent losing century old institutions. This is about much more than watching a game of football. Clubs are so often the heart of a community and local economy.

What are we asking of you?

We ask that you write to the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport;

1. Requesting clear guidance on what local and / or national conditions will allow the safe return of fans to football league grounds. For example, is there a target rate of infection per 100,000 or a target R rate?

2. Supporting Government financial assistance for EFL clubs.

Finally, we thought it worth sharing a recent email received from one of our members that we feel sums up how many fans feel now.

Yours sincerely

Andrew Hird

Chairman, Red and White Army.

Letter from RAWA member…

Grant Leadbitter’s late penalty to secure the three points for Sunderland felt like a poignant moment. The County-Durham born midfielder’s spotkick was his first goal for his boyhood club for eleven years. He celebrated by running over to the touchline where his dad’s ashes were scattered back in 2008.

The goal certainly put a smile on the faces of Sunderland supporters everywhere, but given the personal problems Leadbitter has struggled with over the past 12 months, it was tough not to envisage a scenario where there were 30,000 Sunderland fans going mental and enjoying the moment with him. Of course, such scenes remain a pipe dream, but the thought of no spectators at all entering the Stadium of Light or any other ground for that matter is enough to fill football fans across the country with dread.

Since becoming a professional sport in the late 19th century, football has been an escape from the mundanity of daily life. We are used to turning to football in times of struggle, the prospect of going to the match with friends and family has provided people with a social framework and is the glue that binds friendship and community together. During difficult times in our lives we turn to the familiarity of football to comfort us and it is vital for the mental wellbeing of millions of people all over the country. Simply having the option to watch games by any means has provided a crumb of comfort and familiarity but even that leaves a bitter taste in the mouth when you consider the fragility of the English game in its current form.

Just hours after watching my team beat Peterbrough, it was tough not to feel downhearted watching the discussion on Quest about the harm the lack of fans was doing to clubs outside of the Premier League. How can we be excited for a potential promotion push that might never occur? How can we bemoan our lack of cover in the full-back areas when Rick Parry has warned that some clubs are as little as six weeks away from going under?

In the past, while I’ve been saddened by the news of Darlington, Hereford, Bury, Chester City etc. going under, it has always been quite easy to ‘other’ the problem while my club was not in overt imminent danger of going bust. But this is a situation we can no longer afford to adopt a ‘I’m alright Jack’ mentality over.

Football as we know it is under threat and unless action is taken, the football pyramid which has been a source of immense pride in this country is in mortal danger. We are in a situation where people can attend pubs and other indoor venues but open air football stadiums cannot host football matches in Stadiums operating at a fraction of their intended capacity. Fans could easily have their temperature taken upon arrival at the stadium with hand sanitising stations being placed around the ground, as we saw at a selection of grounds as recently as last week.

While the caution is understandable to an extent, the lack of spectators could have irreversible consequences and if a solution cannot be reached then a recuse package is needed to ensure the short to medium term survival of the game.

We all know that football can divide us and rivalry is arguably the best part of the game, but right now we need strength in numbers. The common cause of ensuring our survival is much stronger than any differences we have.

Therefore it is essential that fans across the country contact their local MP’s, talk about their concerns in the public domain and place relentless pressure on the powers that be to help protect the game we all love.

Stay safe and keep the faith.

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