KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTS: Manchester United’s Ed Woodward has urged government and health authorities to ease curbs on football crowds.

The appeal from the club’s executive vice-chairman was delivered following the publication of the club’s annual accounts.

He said: “Crowds have been permitted to return to varying degrees in over 20 European countries. What is needed is consistency of approach. If people are allowed to sit in a plane for hours, or cinema, or watch football in a cinema why not outside in a stadium.

“If indoor concerts are allowed, why should outdoor, socially-distanced football fans be treated differently? Fans are the bedrock of this game and some of the inconsistencies out there are frustrating for them and for the clubs.”

In the report itself, Woodward said: “Our focus remains on protecting the health of our colleagues, fans and community while adapting to the significant economic ramifications of the pandemic.

“Within that context, our top priority is to get fans back into the stadium safely and as soon as possible.”

United recorded a pre-tax loss of £20.8m for the year to end-June 2020. The loss for the April-to-June period, while Covid-19 was laying waste to global sports, was actually more than twice as big, at £46.5m.

Net debt ended the year at £474.1 million – well over double the end-June 2019 level, reflecting a severe drawdown of cash from £307.6 million to £51.5 million. The club said it had access to a further £150 million under a revolving credit facility. This provided the “financial flexibility to support the club through the disruption caused by Covid-19”.

Full-year match-day revenue was down 19% at £89.8m, with broadcasting revenue, affected by the Champions League absence, tumbling almost 42pc to £140.2m.

The final quarter figures provided a warning that not even United will be entirely immune from an expected Covid-related downturn in sponsorship earnings, however, with revenue from that source in this period dipping 5.5% to £39.2m.

** United’s results: