HUNDREDS of people in Worcester have signed a petition calling for the Government to let fans of professional football clubs back into stadiums.

Almost 200,000 fans have backed the argument to force a Parliamentary debate to take place on the issue on November 9

Data from Friday showed 345 of those people had signed from Worcester's parliamentary constituency, joining just shy of 25,000 from across the West Midlands.

Professional sport returned behind closed doors with pilot events taking place in late September with a view to allowing a limited numbers of fans back from October 1 but a second wave of Covid-19 has seen those plans shelved for up to six months.

In football it affects the top six levels of the system, the Premier League, Football League and National League, with a restricted number of people allowed into semi-professional levels beneath that.

Petition creator Ashley Greenwood said football is a "powerful tool" that brings a range of economic and social benefits.

He added: "Football can be associated with passion, emotion, excitement and dedication across the community.

"I ask for the support of this petition as I fear that smaller clubs in particular will go out of business leading to a devastating effect on people."

Culture secretary Oliver Dowden admits there is a growing sense of frustration at the ban on live crowds at sporting events but insists there can be no change until the spread of coronavirus is curbed.

Speaking at the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport committee, Mr Dowden said he desperately wanted to have socially-distanced spectators in grounds from October 1.

He added: "But there is very clear evidence from the scientific community that at this stage of the disease, with rapidly rising infections, we should be imposing restrictions – which we are – not further easements.

“We are doing things that are positively hateful, but the reason we are doing it is to secure public safety.”

Though the Conservative MP gave no timeline, he said the emergence of a vaccine, on-day testing, or further control of the virus could all help enable events with fans to return.

The Premier League says English football loses £100million every month without spectators, while the EFL said it lost £50m in revenue in 2019-20 and stands to lose a further £200m if fans do not return in 2020-21.

Premier League chief executive Richard Masters questioned why football stadiums remain closed, but indoor arts and music events are still taking place.

He said: "We understand that DCMS has to do things for different sectors but ultimately there’s an inconsistency there, that you can go to an indoor venue, enjoy an evening out.

“We think that’s a really positive thing, the big question is why can’t that be, in the near future, sports venues as well?”

Masters has backed the petition, writing an open letter to fans earlier this month alongside the heads of the Football League and Football Association.

It read: "We all know football is not the same without fans. Every player and manager is missing the direct connection with you and the impact that you have on our games.

“The sooner we can return, the sooner we can reunite communities and support local jobs, livelihoods, regional businesses and also the national economy."