Harrogate Town forced to play Sunderland AFC friendly behind closed doors

Saturday's pre-season clash between Harrogate Town and Sunderland will take place behind closed doors on the recommendation of North Yorkshire County Council's Safety Advisory Group.
League One Sunderland visit Harrogate Town on Saturday afternoon. Picture: Getty ImagesLeague One Sunderland visit Harrogate Town on Saturday afternoon. Picture: Getty Images
League One Sunderland visit Harrogate Town on Saturday afternoon. Picture: Getty Images

With more than 800 away tickets snapped up in quick time by Black Cats supporters, the Sulphurites were looking forward to a bumper crowd when they hosted the League One outfit.

But, having received a letter from the safety advisory group on Friday afternoon, the club contacted Sunderland at 5pm to inform them that the fixture would have to be played without spectators in attendance.

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A statement released by Town explained: 'It is with regret that we are announcing Saturday's pre-season fixture against Sunderland will now be played behind-closed-doors.

'At just after 2pm on July 23, the club received a letter from North Yorkshire County Council Safety Advisory Group (SAG), who had identified a number of issues that made them uneasy about the match going ahead with a crowd.

'We are working with the SAG to address the points they have raised for future fixtures.

'All supporters who purchased a ticket for the fixture will receive a full refund. The fixture will be available to watch live free of charge via Sunderland AFC's official website.

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'Anyone who had already purchased a stream at £10 via live.harrogatetownafc.com will be refunded.

'We sincerely apologise for the inconvenience caused.'

The announcement was met by disappointment and anger from supporters of both clubs.

Reacting to the news, Sunderland released a statement which said: 'SAFC understands that supporters will be extremely disappointed by this news and its last-minute nature, with many fans incurring considerable personal expense to put travel plans in place.

'We share this disappointment and will work closely with HTFC to ensure that all ticket holders receive a full refund as soon as possible.'

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Saturday's fixture at Wetherby Road kicks-off at 3pm and will see Simon Weaver's team run out in front of an empty stadium once again having played almost the entirety of the 2020/21 campaign without fans in attendance.

Something resembling normality had returned to the EnviroVent Stadium in the last week with fans permitted entry to recent pre-season clashes with Newcastle United Under-23s and Rotherham United, but Friday's development leaves question marks hanging over Town's ability to host League Two fixtures once the 2021/22campaign kicks off in a fortnight's time.