MICHAEL Gove has one of those faces that just spells bad news.

And the government minister’s lugubrious expression matched the mood of the footballing public when he announced that plans to bring fans back to game next month were being “paused”.

That is official speak, no doubt, for it won’t be happening any time soon.

The flicker of hope at seeing a socially-distance crowd at Forest Green as one of the seven test games across the EFL last weekend was no more than a mirage.

Valley Parade will remain cavernously empty for the immediate future and beyond.

Forget that aim of allowing supporters back for the Harrogate game on October 12. Experts now gloomily predict it will be next year – maybe, in the worst-case scenario, even next season - before clubs will be reopening their doors to any spectators.

Stuart McCall summed up the feeling of every football fan when he heard the news while driving into the training ground.

“It’s probably been coming with the way things have been going in the last couple of weeks and lockdowns in certain places,” he said.

“It’s naturally another little setback, especially after the weekend when we had some fans in at the game.

“But, as we’ve been saying for months, it’s obviously about the safety of everyone.

“If these strict measures for the next few weeks or months can get back on top of it, then hopefully it might not be too far off again.”

There may have only been a few hundred inside The New Lawn but enough to create a buzz that has been absent since Operation Restart was launched by the Premier League and Championship.

That just added to the frustration at the news that football seems to be heading back to square one. But McCall concedes it is probably the only way in the ongoing battle to contain the virus.

“Saturday seemed to be well organised at Forest Green with everyone respecting what they had to do.

“I listened on the radio to a couple of pub owners. I’ve been out for a few meals and what have you and the majority of people are doing everything really well.

“It feels like we’re being punished again. But if it is the right thing to do, then we have no choice.

“We keep going on about getting that ‘R’ number down below one again.

“It’s something we just have to accept unfortunately. It’s happening to every business and it feels like taking a step back.”

City’s squad came into work and straight into another meeting updating them about what happens next.

McCall added: “We’ve had to have another debrief about the protocols to make sure we are keeping on top of things and doing everything right.

“We keep saying it, but it is what it is. We can all be disappointed but we’ve just got to adhere to the rules and try to work around it as best as possible.

“From a selfish point of view, we’re still being allowed to train and play football. But naturally we all want supporters back in.”

City have sold over 9,000 season-tickets – an impressive take-up when there is no guarantee if/when fans will actually be able to take up those seats they have paid for.

Initially there were hopes that Saturday’s game against Stevenage could be the last one at home with a total lock-out. A first Valley Parade visit from Harrogate as an EFL club on October 12 was pencilled into diaries as the potential return date, either for those with "claret" or "amber" tickets.

But Gove's appearance on BBC Breakfast dashed those plans. The government were pressing the pause button.

Watching games remotely via iFollow will remain the closest the fans can get to the matchday experience.

“It’s frustrating for everyone but the end outcome is to keep safe and getting the numbers back down,” said McCall.

“If it’s a little lockdown for a month or so, we’ll all try and get on top of it and hopefully that will make a difference.

“But obviously the winter months are coming when everyone will be inside so it’s not looking over-positive.

“There have been so many ups and downs.

“A couple of months ago it sounded like we weren’t going to be getting back any time soon and the season wouldn’t be starting until November.

“Then that got brought forward. Then fans were going to be in soon and now they’re not.

“We’re obviously striving to get supporters back in because nobody enjoys the game without the fans there. It is difficult but we’ll just try to carry on and be positive as a team.”