THE new League One season begins tomorrow – but Phil Parkinson fears clubs might not be able to complete it unless spectators are able to start returning to stadiums as planned next month.

As things stand, the Government is hoping to start readmitting supporters to Premier League and Football League stadia on a phased basis from October 1, but Boris Johnson revealed on Wednesday that those plans will be reviewed later this month amid a backdrop of renewed fears over a continued rise in coronavirus cases.

A planned test event at Cambridge United’s League Two game with Carlisle United tomorrow has been scrapped, along with proposals to admit spectators at this weekend’s St Leger horseracing festival at Doncaster and a number of county cricket matches next week.

Last season, clubs in Leagues One and Two opted to end the campaign early rather than play matches behind-closed-doors because they were worried about the financial impact of having to stage games in empty stadia.

The prospect of fans beginning to return in October persuaded the EFL to start the new season in the lower two tiers this weekend, but there is already understandable concern at what might happen if fans are prevented from attending for a few more months yet.

“I think it’s going to be difficult (if there are no fans), I really do,” said Parkinson, ahead of his side’s season-opener against Bristol Rovers. “I obviously don’t know the finances of all clubs, but the talk amongst all the managers is that a number of clubs are going to have difficulties.

“It’s a massive problem, and some tough decisions are going to have to be made in terms of taking the element of risk and letting crowds back into football, which is so important to the country, as healthily as possible. That has to be done, while still protecting people’s health.

“Clubs in the Premier League and Championship can survive because, in the Premier League in particular, the money from the TV deals is such a big part of a club’s income compared to people going to the games. But in League One and League Two, the money from fans coming through the gates is absolutely massive.

“There’s so many decisions to be made by the Government, in so many different aspects for the country. As much as we sit down as a staff and discussing picking the team or what we’re going to do in training, they’re discussing what is the right thing for the country moving forward, and each and every industry within it.”

As well as being heavily influenced by the restrictions imposed in response to coronavirus, Sunderland’s off-field position will also be impacted by any developments in Stewart Donald’s ongoing attempts to sell up.

Having discussed a possible sale with a number of different groups over the summer, the Sunderland owner is currently involved in talks with a consortium that has been granted a period of exclusivity in which to attempt to complete a deal.

Those talks remain ongoing, and while the wider financial picture is understood to be having an effect, senior sources on Wearside claim there is still a strong hope that an agreement could be finalised before the end of the month.

Parkinson, who knows all about the negative impacts of financial uncertainty from his time at Bolton Wanderers, has been receiving regular updates from Donald throughout the summer. He accepts the off-field position could change markedly as the season unfolds, but insists there is no point worrying about what might or might not happen until Donald informs him of a major new development.

“The owners of the club keep me informed when they feel I really need to know something,” said Parkinson. “As you all know, with the speculation about people buying clubs, and being linked with buying clubs, if they called me at every single circumstance when there was an interest in buying the club, I’d never be off the phone.

“I want to concentrate on the team, and they want me to concentrate on the team, so when there is any definitive news, they’ll let me know.

“At this point, it’s not at that stage. I can’t afford to worry about what might happen. You just can’t let it enter your head because my job is to concentrate on running the team. Everything else will take care of itself, and there are people at the club who will be dealing with that situation. When I need to know, they’ll keep me informed.”