NON LEAGUE clubs will be able to welcome supporters back into grounds once the 2020/21 starts, after the government updated its guidance on recreational team sport events.

Clubs at Step Three - National League North and South - and below will be permitted to open their gates to fans for the first time since March, as part of a pilot scheme that will pave the way for fans being able to attend elite sport again with an intended expansion from October 1.

The move comes after more than 30 MPs wrote to sports minister Nigel Huddlestone calling for the "urgent return of fans to non league clubs".

Co-ordinated by former sports minister Tracey Crouch and Dame Cheryl Gillan, the letter warned that clubs "at the heart of our constituencies" could be "lost forever" if an exemption was not granted.

The MPs who put their signatures to the letter had noted that non-league clubs "tend to be supported by those within the town itself" and that average attendances are "in the hundreds".

Supporters attending games will be required to abide by social distancing rules, and spectator groups must be restricted to "discrete six-person gathering limits", while organisers of events that are expected to draw a bigger crowd will need to put forward a "named person or persons with responsibility for ensuring adherence with these guidelines and ensuring the facility is Covid-19 secure". A risk assessment limiting the number of spectators would also need to be published, while assisting with the NHS Test and Trace scheme by collecting information from spectators.

This development means that the FA Vase games scheduled for September 19 will not now need to be played behind closed doors, although clarification is being sought on how areas in local lockdown would be affected.

Barnoldswick Town were the first of our teams out of the hat for the first round qualifying - drawn away to Newton Aycliffe. Nelson face a trip to Carlisle City, AFC Darwen travel to Staveley MW, while Brent Peters' Bacup Borough are also on the road, away to Pilkington. Winning clubs will receive £550 while £160 goes to the losing club at this stage of the competition.

A campaign with the slogan #LetFansIn has gathered momentum among non-league clubs in recent days, with two petitions started in support have received more than 6,000 signatures.

Crouch recognised the importance of non league clubs both to the game and communities when she posted on Twitter: "Football has many wonderful layers but non-league is often at its heart and soul. With fewer fans it's easier to make clubs Covid secure but without them coming back soon their future is shaky so we've written to Sports Minister calling for non-league clubs to #LetFansIn."

An FA spokesman said: "We continue to follow government advice with regards to the return of spectators and are working continuously with the Sports Ground Safety Authority, DCMS and Leagues to seek approval for a safe return as soon as feasibly possible."