Prime Minister Boris Johnson today said the Government were looking "urgently" at ways of helping football clubs following the confirmation that fans would not be back in grounds in the near future.

Clubs are today reeling from the news that planned pilot games aimed at the staged return of supporters to league grounds had been shelved.

It means Carlisle United's game against Southend last Saturday, which was deemed a success after 1,000 supporters returned to Brunton Park, will not be repeated for the foreseeable.

The news has raised fresh concerns amongst clubs and leagues who rely heavily on matchday income.

Johnson, addressing the House of Commons this afternoon, said: "I recognise how this affects sport clubs, and the Chancellor and Culture Secretary are working urgently on what we can do to support them."

In a fresh blow to professional football, a rise in Covid-19 cases nationally has scuppered immediate aims to have supporters back in grounds.

Carlisle chief executive Nigel Clibbens described the news as "desperate" for the Blues and their fellow EFL clubs.

The Blues also tweeted: "This is incredibly bad news. We’ll be watching closely for official, succinct and hopefully speedy clarification of what this means to us, the EFL and the game as a whole."

United's supporters trust CUOSC, meanwhile, added via chairman Frank Beattie: "Coming in the wake of what was considered a very successful test event against Southend, this is very disappointing news.

"However, we have always said the safety of fans and everyone concerned is of paramount importance.

"These are very worrying times for lower league football and in the coming days we hope to hear more from the Government."

Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove this morning confirmed the scheme to return fans to grounds was being postponed.

Speaking on BBC Breakfast, Gove said: "It was the case that we were looking at a staged programme of more people returning; it wasn't going to be the case that we were going to have stadiums thronged with fans.

"We're looking at how we can, for the moment, pause that programme, but what we do want to do is to make sure that, as and when circumstances allow, [we] get more people back."

Gove acknowledged that the coronavirus is less likely to spread outdoors than indoors, "but it's in the nature of major sporting events that there is a lot of mingling".

He referred to games that were allowed to go ahead at the start of the pandemic earlier this year, and said with that in mind, "we must look at sporting events with caution".

He added, though, that it was also necessary "to recognise that sport is a vital part of the life of this nation, and we're looking at everything we can do in order to support our athletes and our great clubs through what will be a challenging time."

News of the "pause" has intensified calls for a bail-out package for clubs and leagues, with some reports suggesting it could be months before fans are allowed back into grounds.

With the viabilty of many clubs and organisations set to come under further pressure without fans, a host of sporting leaders are lobbying the prime minister to act in order to avoid a "lost generation" of sport and activity.

More than 100 sports organisation leaders, including the Premier League, Football Association and EFL Trust, of which Carlisle United co-owner John Nixon is chairman, have written a letter to Boris Johnson in a bid to avert a crisis in professional and grassroots sport.

The letter says: “Covid-19 has undermined our commercial revenue streams with both stadia and leisure facilities closed or greatly reduced in capacity. The impact of this will potentially lead to a lost generation of sport and activity. In order to play our fullest role, we must survive and stabilise.”

Carlisle director Clibbens pointed out on Twitter that the "pause" means that "four people from two families won't be able to sit outside socially-distanced in our stands" but that "four people from two families can [still] sit around a table inside eating a meal out".

Clibbens yesterday hailed the "remarkable" efforts which saw United welcome 1,000 season-ticket holders back to their ground for the 2-0 victory over Southend - the first of seven pilot games in the EFL over the weekend.

He said the club had been hoping to have fans back at the ground for their next home game against Barrow.

The Football Supporters' Association has also called on the Government to listen to fans on the subject of returning supporters to grounds.

Kevin Miles, FSA chief executive, said: “The FSA has written to the Government to stress how important it is that we start to allow fans back into games.

"Feedback from our members at test events has confirmed high levels of compliance with all the health and safety measures put in place, and that they felt safer at games than they have done in many other social situations.

“Having fans at games is of course not only important to the lives of supporters, it is also crucial to the survival of so many clubs who play a crucial role within their communities.

"A combination of revenue at the ground and government support is urgently needed to keep clubs going. The Government has to listen to fans and football clubs on this one.”

The Premier League, meanwhile, today warned that "the football economy" is "unsustainable" without supporters in grounds.

In a statement responding to the Government's latest action, the top-flight said: "While the health of the nation must remain everyone's priority, we are disappointed that the safe return of supporters to matches has been postponed.

"The Premier League is certain that, through league-wide guidelines and a code of conduct developed with scientific experts and agreed by the Government's Sports Grounds Safety Authority, fans in stadiums will be as safe or even safer than at any other public activity currently permitted.

"This is already evident in other European leagues. Football is not the same without attending fans and the football economy is unsustainable without them."

The Premier League added that clubs suffered £700m in losses last season and the national game is currently losing more thwn £100m per month. "This is starting to have a devastating impact on clubs and their communities.

"We will continue to work with Government to bring supporters safely back into grounds as soon as possible."