Former Liverpool and England footballer Stephen Warnock believes open-air football stadiums offer a safe environment for fans to make a return to games.
Fans have been largely unable to attend games since the start of Covid-19 restrictions, although some live games have been screened at cinemas across the country.
Warnock, who was talking at the launch of 7 Elite Academy’s new partnership with Coaching Connexions, is keen to see fans back inside football stadiums soon.
He said: “I think football clubs and their fans are missing out massively by not being able to attend games. They are a huge part of the game and football is nothing without the fans.
“It is frustrating when you see events at places like the Albert Hall, where people are crammed in, or at cinemas when you’ve got an open air stadium that can seat 60,000 people.
“I think there’s obviously reasons behind it that the government needs to explain to football fans, whether that’s getting to the stadiums or whatever that might be.
“But fans have still got to get to the cinemas, so it is frustrating. Clubs have spent a lot of money on making sure protocols are right and safety of fans is paramount.
“It has been rolled out across Europe and fans are wondering why we can’t follow the same protocol here, and make sure they’re safe and back in the grounds.”
Warnock is an ambassador for 7 Elite Academy, which is offering young people the opportunity to continue playing while studying in Liverpool through its collaboration with Coaching Connexions.
The affiliation will eventually see 7 Elite Academy players from across the world study sports courses at the college, which is based at Jeffrey Humble Football Hub, Aintree and complemented by their new 4000 sq foot education centre just 1000m away.
7 Elite Academy runs teams for hundreds of youngsters across the world, with well-established training programmes in the United States, United Kingdom and Africa.
Coaching Connexions was established in 2006 and is one of the leading sports training providers in the UK, with seven campuses in six counties. Football teams at the college in Liverpool will be branded as 7 Elite Academy.
Anthony Godfrey, Academy Director at 7 Elite Academy, is looking forward to seeing players benefit from the partnership.
He said: “This collaboration with Coaching Connexions will give our young people so many opportunities to continue playing for 7 Elite Academy, while also gaining crucial qualifications for later in life.
“We want to show our players that they can remain with 7 Elite Academy once they reach 16 and still benefit from the training and developmental curriculum we offer, in conjunction with Coaching Connexions.
“There are countless chances for youngsters to have a fulfilling and enjoyable career in football, or further afield within sport, and we are determined to support that in any way we can.
“I am so excited to see our first players progress through Coaching Connexions and continue playing the sport they love.”
7 Elite Academy offers regular opportunities for players to travel and player abroad as part of their development, with several groups from the United States having trained and played with Premier League clubs.
And earlier this year, a team of youth players from Liverpool travelled to play – and win – at the 7 Elite Academy International Tournament in Mesquite, Nevada.
Godfrey added: “We want all our players to develop and thrive, which is so many have travelled across the world to enjoy rich experiences that give them crucial experience and lifelong memories.
Already, a number of our players have gone on to sign with professional academies in the UK and Africa, and we are determined to continue that fine tradition.
“By working with Coaching Connexions we can help to nurture the talent within our players and help them to fulfil their sporting ambitions, whatever they might be.”
7 Elite Academy already works closely with leading semi-professional club AFC Liverpool and runs the club’s Under-18s side – offering further opportunities for players to progress within the game.
A launch event this week got partnership under way, when players and staff from 7 Elite Academy, Coaching Connexions and AFC Liverpool gathered to give it their seal of approval.
Gary Judge, Director of Education at Coaching Connexions, said: “This is a great opportunity for us to work with an established international football organisation in 7 Elite Academy and help even more young people reach their potential.
“I have been very impressed with the professionalism shown by 7 Elite Academy at all levels, from the players themselves to the staff. It is an exciting time for us all.
“I am confident that having 7 Elite Academy work with us can only serve to further the development of the young people we have studying and playing with Coaching Connexions, and those who are looking to join us.
“The fact that we have campuses across the United Kingdom means regularly offer players the chance to work alongside experienced players at all levels of the game. That can only be a benefit for our students.”