THACKLEY chairman Ben Oliver has admitted it was a surprise to have football returning in the Northern Counties East League this weekend, while he played down talk of a row with fierce rivals Eccleshill United.

Games were not due to return until January, but with the surprise FA announcement last week that 150 home fans could attend non-elite, non-league matches in Tier 3 areas, the NCEL announced they would be back on December 19.

Thackley restart with an away clash at Maltby Main in the NCEL Premier Division tomorrow, before a home derby with Eccleshill, which, after some debate, will be played on Boxing Day.

Oliver said: "We're always happy to play football, it's why you're in the business.

"It's good for the players' physical and mental health, and it's a release for all of us from what's going on.

"But it was a surprise, as the league had said January and now it's Saturday. Other leagues have taken difference stances over when they'll start.

"I understand the position our league are in though, needing to get the games in. We're good to go in terms of all the Covid safety too."

Oliver added: "We can have fans back but it's still difficult in Tier 3, as we've not got that additional spend of bar takings, with the clubhouse having to stay closed.

"Our last home game was against Silsden (on October 31) and even though the clubhouse was at reduced capacity then, and it was table service only, we'd just renovated the place, so it was one of the most profitable in the league."

In normal times, the clubhouse would have been packed to the rafters on Boxing Day for Thackley's match with Eccleshill.

Discussing the clash, Oliver said: "It's a cracking fixture, a Boxing Day derby, but it's one of those games you want fully attended, with no restrictions.

"We got 210 fans in last season for the derby, so it was well attended. We were even able to run a 'Pay What You Want' scheme for it.

"It's not quite going to be the same this year."

If Thackley had had their way, the game would not be taking place on Boxing Day.

Explaining the Dennyboys' stance, Oliver said: "We're conscious that 2020 has been a real struggle, but we've got these five days over Christmas where families can see each other.

"We felt for the players, volunteers and coaches, it would have been nice to spend Boxing Day with their families at home.

"We'd seen a few other teams in the league move their games to December 28 or 29, so we thought we'd try and do the same.

"But Eccleshill wanted to keep it on Boxing Day, and that's not for us to say whether that's right or wrong.

"We respect their decision, and we're good to go then, with a good squad who fancy their chances."