CITY chief executive Ryan Sparks is confident of a return to normality for the start of the season, despite lockdown easing being pushed back to July 19.

The club's pre-season schedule was announced on Monday evening, and accounts for a limited number of fans at Valley Parade for the friendlies against Doncaster and Blackburn.

But with thousands of season tickets already sold ahead of League Two kicking off on August 7, what if the rise in cases of the Delta variant causes a further delay and denies City a capacity crowd ahead of their opener?

A confident Sparks insisted: "We're not out of the woods yet, as you can't control the virus, but the vaccines clearly work, limiting hospitalisations and taking pressure off the NHS.

"I'm not concerned about the start of the season, as by August most adults will have had one if not two jabs. There's even talk of a programme for schoolchildren.

"I think it'll be safe as can be and people are really keen for a sense of normality, as it's been a horrendous 18 months."

And that means the uptake on season tickets has been strong, with Sparks saying: "We're actually in front of where we expected to be on season ticket sales.

"We've done over 7,000 so far and there's over a month of the campaign to go, so I'm very optimistic of where we might get to.

"We're got to be able to offer a product worth watching, something to buy into in the long-term.

"I think people can see that and the response has been really heartwarming and it reminds us of why we do it.

"I'd like to thank the supporters for their incredible backing and we see it as our priority to repay that."

Sparks said City are "optimistic" about there being a sense of normality and people being able to eat and drink freely at the ground come August.

But that is less likely for the friendlies against Doncaster (2,000 home fans) and Blackburn (4,000 home fans).

On those games, Sparks said: "It's certainly the first step in the right direction.

"The capacities are not what we'd like, but that's just where we are. We need these trial games to kick us on.

"After the government announcement on Monday night, we're confident the vaccine race will be won and the restrictions will be all but obliterated by the end of next month."

Most of City's July friendlies are away against local sides like Bradford (Park Avenue), Brighouse, Eccleshill and Guiseley.

Sparks believes the relationship City have with those clubs is vital, saying: "With the Bradford fixtures, we need them and they need us.

"After the last 18 months, they need our help more than ever. We're a community football club, a major part of the city, and we have an obligation to look after our friends.

"The games against the likes of Avenue and Eccleshill bring activity to those areas and put things back into our home city.

"Our partnership with Avenue, and relationship with them, Bulls and the council is improving and will only make us better as a club and city.

"These games are crucial and were always part of the plans. We try and play as many of them as possible.

"Last summer we were unable to due to the pandemic so hopefully we can return to all those grounds with some real energy this season."