SOMERSET County Cricket Club's fans will be able to return to the Cooper Associates County Ground from May - but could county cricket be played in front of spectators before then?

The government's 'roadmap' for easing Covid-19 restrictions allows for sports fans to return to stadiums from Monday, May 17 - so long as the vaccination programme continues as planned and there is no surge in Covid-related hospitalisations before then.

That date of May 17 would rule out Somerset supporters being able to attend their team’s first six County Championship fixtures, which are against Middlesex (April 8-11, away), Gloucestershire (April 15-18, away), Leicestershire (April 22-25, away), Middlesex (April 29-May 2, home), Hampshire (May 6-9, away) and Surrey (May 13-16, home).

Somerset's first match with fans in the ground would potentially be the fixture against Gloucestershire in Bristol (May 20-23), with that game to be followed by a tourist match between Somerset and New Zealand at the County Ground in Taunton (May 25-28).

READ MORE: What government 'roadmap' means for sport in Somerset

In a statement released on Tuesday, Somerset chief executive Gordon Hollins said: “Obviously we are pleased by what [Prime Minister] Boris Johnson has said regarding the proposed return of spectators for the forthcoming season.

"The Cooper Associates County Ground simply has not been the same without our members and supporters.

“We will be working closely with the ECB [England & Wales Cricket Board] and the relevant authorities to ensure that, when spectators are permitted back into stadia, we are ensuring that they are doing so in a safe and secure manner.

"It is also important that we ensure the experience of coming to the County Ground is an enjoyable one.

“Work has been going on behind the scenes over the last few months to make sure that we are prepared for every eventuality with regard to a return to crowds, and we will be keeping our members up to date with any decisions that are made regarding timings and capacity.

“Once again we would like to thank our members and supporters for their continued backing and patience.”

Somerset members will be invited to a virtual session (via Zoom) on Tuesday, March 2 (at 7pm) in relation to the roadmap, with further details to follow in due course.

Is there any way that fans could attend county cricket games before May? Well, maybe.

A series of 'pilot' events are to run in April, to examine whether it would be safe to open grounds up to a maximum of 10,000 people from May 17.

And Warwickshire chief executive Stuart Cain believes that County Championship cricket would be ideal as a pilot.

He told the BBC: “It can't be any worse to have people in the Bullring shopping centre but not have people at Edgbaston.

"If you think about it, Edgbaston is a four-acre park in the suburbs of Birmingham.

"It's an open air site with 25,000 seats, so if you can go shopping in the Bullring, surely you'd be able to come to Edgbaston, watching safely in the open air.

"If people can shop at the Bullring and Alton Towers can accommodate thrill-seekers from April 12, why could we not stage spectator pilots at our County Championship matches?

“This would help the wider professional sports industry to be equipped for welcoming more spectators in the following months.”