THOUSANDS of footballers can return to competition this weekend following a two week suspension of their leagues due to coronavirus.

Matches across much of the region were called off earlier this month in response to an increase in cases of Covid 19 in areas including Sunderland, Gateshead and South Tyneside.

Durham County FA has announced that clubs below Step 6 or the Northern League Division 2, including the Wearside League down to children’s football, can resume fixtures from Friday.

Extra restrictions including strict limits on the number of spectators and use of changing facilities and club houses will be in place in a bid to limit the risk of Covid 19 cases.

They include no spectators at games outside of the national league system and only one parent will be able to supervise players at youth and disability games.

Friendlies, charity and indoor matches will not be sanctioned by the league.

Durham County FA’s Chief Executive, John Topping, added: “As we are all aware the North East of England has been placed under local restrictions following the increase in the number of Covid-19 cases, which has mainly arose due to social gatherings, these restrictions have impacted on many people and is also having a detrimental effect on their health and wellbeing.

“Following positive meetings between Durham County FA, Northumberland FA, the Football Association, Local Authorities and other organisations, we are delighted to announce that a return to football with necessary restrictions in place can commence from Friday, September 25.

“I am sure all will agree that a return to playing football is beneficial for all, but we must adhere to guidelines put in place so that we do not end up with a total lockdown of football.

“The position is scheduled to be reviewed on October 7.”

The new restrictions in full are:

Men’s National League System Steps 3 to 6 and Women’s Football Pyramid Steps 3 to 6

• Reduction of spectators – numbers do not exceed 15% of the minimum ground grading capacity – Stage 1

• All spectators should wear face coverings at all times as stated inline with government advice.

• Club houses/bars– It is strongly advised that these remain closed one hour before kick-off and remain closed until one hour after the final whistle. When open, clubs must comply with all Government and Local Authority regulations including social distancing and table service requirements. Government guidance states that food and drink can be served outside in an open space if the club’s licence permits.

• Changing facilities may remain closed where the facility owner deems this to be necessary.

• All training must take place without spectators

All Adult Football Outside of the National League System

• No spectators at training or matches.

• Changing rooms closed only toilets accessible

Youth and Disability Football

• One parent/carer per player at matches/training - these are not classed as spectators but are in attendance to supervise their child from a safeguarding/welfare perspective

• Face coverings should be worn at all times by those in attendance unless a playing participant.

• No other spectators are permitted

• Changing rooms closed and only accessible for toilets, or for safeguarding or welfare issues

Other formats of the game

• No friendly, charity matches or tournaments at any level will be sanctioned

• No return to indoor football – including indoor training and futsal

• No trials should take place

• Outdoor small sided, walking football and recreational football to be played without spectators in attendance.