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Tonbridge Angels are classed in the same bracket as Arsenal and Manchester United with fans still not allowed back

Tonbridge manager Steve McKimm is fuming that their return to league action is set to be delayed next month.

Angels were due to start their National League South season at Billericay on Tuesday, October 6.

Tonbridge Angels manager Steve McKimm. Picture: David Couldridge (42355720)
Tonbridge Angels manager Steve McKimm. Picture: David Couldridge (42355720)

But that is set to be put on hold after the government paused their plans to bring crowds back to 'elite' football after a rise in Covid-19 cases.

"I know our club, as well as others I'm sure, have been asked to put measures in place, like social distancing, and one-way systems around the ground," said McKimm.

"I can only speak about my club but other clubs have followed the same protocols as well and yet they've found a way to not let die-hard supporters into watch the club they love.

"We're talking about the football bubble as that's what we're involved in. I'm a football man and I can safely say that we've followed all the guidelines.

"We've got enough people to make sure it's totally secure, that people social distance themselves, and I think fans would adhere to the rules if they wanted to watch football. If they want to be silly and jump around each other then they'd be asked to leave.

"On the grand scale of things there are bigger things than football, of course. But we want to get back playing and if we can do it safely then I can't see why we can't allow fans in."

The ruling that Tonbridge in National League South are classed as elite football - and therefore seen in the same light as Arsenal and Manchester United in government circles - does not sit right with McKimm.

The elite label came after the National League pushed on with play-off matches at the end of last season while the rest of non-league football declared their season null and void.

That has meant non-league matches at step 3 level and below have returned with capped capacities at grounds.

But Tonbridge, who play at step 2, have to wait until elite football gets the go-ahead to bring fans back before supporters can watch them in action again at Longmead.

"It's a joke when you look at the number of full-time and part-time clubs," said McKimm.

"The part-time sides in National League South far out-weigh the full-time sides.

"I believe it has a bit to do with (being classed as elite). I don't think there's common sense in this. We're being dictated to but we've put our measures in place.

"Step 3 and below have got fans in - if we draw a step 3 side or below in the FA Cup on October 3 then there's an option where we can reverse the fixture so fans can watch it.

"But then we're meant to be going to Billericay on the Tuesday in our first league game but we can't do that as no fans are allowed in the ground now and we're temporarily suspended.

"That's where common sense has to come into it. I don't understand it."

McKimm wants financial support to filter through to their level of the game.

He added: "If people aren't coming in then players can't get paid wages - that's how I see it. I think all those clubs in the EFL must be getting supported somehow because they started two weeks ago.

"There must be some way of supporting us as we will be the only ones not playing football - the Premier League and EFL are playing and step 3 and below are playing. The National League won't come back until they can let fans in yet I bet every club (at this level) could let fans in safely.

"I'm fuming about it because I want to get back to football. It's come down to a silly word called elite.

"We're a non-league club, fan-owned and fan-based. I won't talk about other clubs but I know that we've got loads of volunteers. It's a friendly place to come and that's why we get 450-500 fans to watch us, even if we're not doing well.

"We're little old Tonbridge - we don't say we're something we're not. We don't claim to be a big club, even when we were in the Isthmian Premier we didn't claim that. We're not the biggest club in Kent so I can't work out how we're seen as a big club as we play in the National League. We worked hard to get there and now we're being punished because we've got there.

"I'm only talking about my club, everyone else is probably doing the same interview with their local paper or radio station and saying the same thing."

Read more: All the latest sports news in Kent

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