Football without fans.

Woodward optimistic on fans' return

Thursday 04 March 2021 21:40

Ed Woodward has welcomed signs of “light at the end of the tunnel” for football fans as the easing of UK lockdown restrictions opens a path for Old Trafford to return to full capacity next season.

It is almost a year since fans were last inside the stadium for a thrilling 2-0 derby victory over Manchester City and Woodward said “their absence has only highlighted the importance of fans to the fabric of football, and we can’t wait to welcome them back".

“The successful rapid roll-out of vaccines and falling rate of infections in the UK makes us optimistic about the Government’s roadmap out of the lockdown, including plans for the gradual reopening of sports stadia to spectators beginning this spring,” he said. “Initially, this will be with limits on capacity, but we are hopeful of crowds ramping back up to full capacity next season.”

United's executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward.
In comments after United’s latest quarterly financial results, the executive vice-chairman said the club had responded well to a test of “resilience and values” in the past year, pointing to the £5 million of support provided by the club and Manchester United Foundation to community causes.

“This reflects our commitment to being a positive force in society and a source of pride for our fans,” he said. “It also reflects the dedication of all our employees, and the robustness of our finances fuelled by our commercial business, in responding to this once-in-a-century level crisis.”

Woodward paid special tribute to the club’s coaching, medical and support teams for their efforts during a period when condensed fixture calendars and strict anti-virus protocols have placed huge demands on staff. “We are proud to have played our part in keeping football going to maintain a precious source of entertainment and community for fans around the world,” he said.
Despite near-term pressures from the pandemic, Woodward felt the club was on course “to emerge from this crisis in a stronger relative position” underpinned by the strength of our Academy and our self-sustaining operating model, which facilitates investment in the squad.

The past year had demonstrated “the power of sport to unite and inspire across generations, cultures and ideologies,” Woodward added, highlighting the active role played by football in the campaign against racism and other forms of discrimination. “We, as a club, will continue to be at the forefront of those efforts,” he declared.

Addressing speculation about potential reforms of European football, Woodward said United would continue to play an active role through the European Club Association in discussions on the future of UEFA’s club competitions after the current competition cycle ends in 2024.

“While many details are yet to be resolved, we look forward to seeing the full final proposal from UEFA that we anticipate will include a greater involvement of clubs in the governance and control of the competitions, and of course, a new format with greater appeal to fans, and which, crucially, will continue to go hand in hand with thriving domestic leagues.”