Exclusive - Hull FC owner Adam Pearson pushing for Super League crowds to return by July

BRING THEM BACK: Hull FC's Jamie Shaul is congratulated on his try against Catalans. Airlie Birds owner Adam Pearson believes the KCOM Stadium could cater for the return of fans from the beinning of July. Picture by Allan McKenzie/SWpix.comBRING THEM BACK: Hull FC's Jamie Shaul is congratulated on his try against Catalans. Airlie Birds owner Adam Pearson believes the KCOM Stadium could cater for the return of fans from the beinning of July. Picture by Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com
BRING THEM BACK: Hull FC's Jamie Shaul is congratulated on his try against Catalans. Airlie Birds owner Adam Pearson believes the KCOM Stadium could cater for the return of fans from the beinning of July. Picture by Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com | © SWpix.com (t/a Photography Hub Ltd)
HULL FC owner Adam Pearson is warning that an extended period of playing behind closed doors could still prove the death knell for clubs – and rugby league should push for playing in front of crowds as early as July.

There was welcome news for sport fans yesterday when the Government published a 50-page guidance document detailing how England will begin to ease lockdown measures following the coronavirus outbreak.

Step two of that plan – which is not due to start any earlier than June 1 – includes “permitting cultural and sporting events to take place behind closed doors for broadcast, while avoiding the risk of large-scale social contact”.

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Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s “roadmap” out of the pandemic fits in with the Premier League’s bid to resume their season by June 12 and offers plenty of hope for rugby league, too. It has been shut down since mid-March and most involved in the sport expect to have to play behind closed doors once it is allowed to restart.

Hull FC owner Adam Pearson. 
Picture: Jonathan GawthorpeHull FC owner Adam Pearson. 
Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe
Hull FC owner Adam Pearson. Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe

Pearson, then, welcomed the news but added a caveat; he feels rugby league – even backed by a £16m Government loan – will still wither away if forced to play in front of empty stadiums for any sort of extended spell.

“There is a lot of work still to do and you hear about testing peoples temperatures on training days and match days and things like that,” he told The Yorkshire Post.

“It’s good to hear about this June 1 date but I’m just not convinced how long you can run a sport behind closed doors before it no longer is sport.

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“Because what is a sport without supporters? It’s a training exercise, almost. My guess is that let’s start behind closed doors and get cracking as soon as possible.

Super League's players could be back playing behind closed doors by early June. Picture by Allan McKenzie/SWpix.comSuper League's players could be back playing behind closed doors by early June. Picture by Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com
Super League's players could be back playing behind closed doors by early June. Picture by Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com | © SWpix.com (t/a Photography Hub Ltd)

“But then let’s get some crowds back in. Maybe they just let us play in front of home fans and go from there? Leave grounds shut for two or three months, though, and it will kill the sport.”

Using the example of Hull’s home ground – the 25,500 capacity KCOM Stadium – Pearson believes it can be done safely, especially as they average crowds of around 12,000 people per game.

“(Before lockdown) Boris (Johnson) made the mistake of going to Twickenham and therefore we had to have a Cheltenham Festival which was quite clearly ludicrous,” he continued, referring to the Prime Minister attending England v Wales on March 7, strengthening the horse racing festival’s decision to controversially go ahead with more than 250,000 racegoers a few days later.

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“Just because the Government did that, don’t let that affect crowds going back into grounds at a reasonable time.

“At our ground, for instance, there’s plenty of space inside and lots of fresh air.

“I’d feel a lot safer sat inside the stadium than I would catching a bus to go to the Odeon cinema if they still exist.

“We could probably do about a month behind closed doors and then we need to start letting people in, even if it’s half your capacity with seat spaces between everyone.

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“At our stadium, it’s not people hemmed in and crowded together. It’s not that sort of environment.

“It’s not a packed stand at Cheltenham where everyone’s drunk and rolling around.

“So, fine let’s open behind closed doors but don’t let it go on too long.

“Let’s get a grip, get some bravery back in the country and some normality.”

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The Government document states that reopening venues that attract large crowds “may only be fully possible significantly later depending on the reduction in numbers of infections”.

However, Pearson points at the East Yorkshire city’s low number of infections as a positive in any bid to see doors opened once more.

“We held a fixture against Warrington which was one of the last to be played before the sport shut down,” he added, the 38-4 defeat on March 12 proving to be head coach Lee Radford’s last in charge.

“We had 10,000 there that night. And Hull has one of the lowest virus rates. We might be a couple of weeks behind but a lot of the people don’t leave Hull and there’s not a lot of transitioning in and out of here.

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“We played in a big ground with 10,000 fans without any kind of spike so let’s not get obsessed.

“If we haven’t got crowds in sporting venues by a certain date, a lot of sport is dead in this country - and it’s our fans and our supporters that make our sport special.”

Clearly, like all clubs, Hull need spectators through the gates to bring in much needed income.

Pearson admitted: “It is based on money but it is also about sport.

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“We don’t want people to lose the habit of going to see live sporting events.”

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