Return to stadiums is the date that matters

FOR the many supporters who feverishly scanned the EFL fixture list when it came out on Friday morning, it was not necessarily the opposition who they were scrutinising.

Hull City manager Grant McCann: Could face gauntlet.
Hull City manager Grant McCann: Could face gauntlet.

More likely, the date.

For the time being, a limit of 30 per cent capacity has been set when fans are allowed to return to stadiums, with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport hopeful they will return from October 1 despite the postponement of test events in other sports.

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If – and it remains a big if – that is what transpires, October 3 could well be a red-letter date in the calendar for Yorkshire clubs.

It is a day when Rotherham United are due to host Huddersfield Town – whose home game with Norwich City is the pick of the opening-day White Rose fixtures in the EFL – and Middlesbrough welcome Barnsley.

It is also an autumnal weekend when Leeds United entertain Manchester City in the top flight.

For Harrogate Town, there will be understandable disappointment that their glamour home fixture with Bolton Wanderers is scheduled for October 3 and not after.

Harrogate are set to return home to the CNG Stadium after a temporary stint using Doncaster’s Keepmoat Stadium – while work is completed to install a new grass pitch – a week later on October 10.

October also sees Rotherham play host to Sheffield Wednesday towards the end of the month and Millers fans especially will be keeping their fingers crossed that supporters might just be allowed back in stadiums by then in what most consider to be their marquee fixture of the season.

A Christmas home derby with Barnsley on December 29 – games are scheduled to kick off at 7.45pm on the final set of games in 2020 – should also whet the appetite for the promoted Millers, while Oakwell looks the place to be on Boxing Day when Barnsley welcome Huddersfield Town in a festive month which also sees the Reds visit Hillsborough.

Of course, Wednesday start the season with a fair handicap on minus 12 points after an independent disciplinary panel found them guilty of breaking spending rules. The club are appealing.

Inspection of the club’s early season fixtures will have added to the club’s headaches – with long away trips to sides expected to certainly be in the Championship play-off shake-up in Cardiff and Bristol City and a home game with relegated Watford.

At Championship level, it is a season which will feature 13 scheduled midweek fixtures – with a fair few epic journeys for all our clubs at certain junctures thrown in for good measure.

For Hull City, perhaps nothing illustrates their descent more than the fact that they will start their first season in the third tier since 2004-05 with an unpalatable trip to Gillingham’s Priestfield Stadium.

Four seasons earlier, the Tigers started their campaign with a home victory over reigning Premier League champions Leicester City and how those days will now seem so far away for their followers.

In terms of derbies, Hull welcome Doncaster Rovers in a midweek fixture on December 1, while Grant McCann – who infuriated Rovers supporters in the manner he left the club last summer – is scheduled to make his first return to the Keepmoat Stadium on February 20.

Should home fans be present in stadiums by then, he is sure to run the gauntlet.

Hull also renew acquaintances with another neighbour in Lincoln City, who visit the KCOM Stadium to end 2020 on December 29, with the reverse fixture taking place at Sincil Bank on April 24.

Just a week earlier on April 17, arguably the marquee date in the season for Harrogate – certainly on home soil – will take place when they host Bradford City.

The Valley Parade fixture will be staged on October 10 during an international break on an occasion when Harrogate and Bradford will be afforded centre stage in Yorkshire.

It will be a proud day for the former in particular and a reminder of just how far they have travelled in recent seasons.

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James Mitchinson