EPL considers neutral venues for June 1 start
The Premier League says it has listened to the objections of some clubs to the use of neutral grounds if the season resumes and will support them in putting those views to the authorities.
Chief executive Richard Masters said the organisation was in an “ongoing dialogue” with government, police and ground safety officials.
“Everybody would prefer to play at home and away if at all possible, and it’s clear to see some clubs feel more strongly about that than others,” he said after a shareholders’ meeting.
“We are in contact with the authorities and listening to that advice, while also representing club views in those discussions.”
He said “a really strong collective will to complete the season remains” but admitted that “curtailment” of the season was discussed for the first time at the meeting.
Two weeks ago clubs were told neutral stadiums were the only way the season could be completed, because authorities were concerned about fans congregating outside home grounds and breaching social distancing rules.
But at least six clubs are opposed to the proposal in the Project Restart plan, with Watford, Aston Villa and Brighton coming out publicly against it.
Those clubs now want the chance to show they can deliver home and away matches safely, and league bosses are behind them.
“Since Covid became an issue we’ve been talking to the authorities about the conditions in which we could get the Premier League back up and running and taking all that advice on board, but it is an ongoing dialogue,” said Masters, speaking for the first time since the season was suspended.
“But all must be cognisant of what authorities are telling us, and we’ll continue with that consultation.”
The government is understood to have “open ears” regarding neutral venues and is prepared to discuss the matter. However, a final decision is likely to rest with the police and ground safety officials, who have to grant licences to venues.
Last week the head of the UK’s football policing unit, deputy chief constable Mark Roberts, said clubs opposed to neutral grounds should “get a grip”.
Liverpool mayor Joe Anderson also told the BBC he feared thousands of the club’s fans would gather outside Anfield to celebrate the title, even if matches were played at neutral venues.
Despite mounting tension and division over the use of neutral stadiums, Masters said Monday’s five-hour meeting showed a “strong desire to discuss everything in the round, and to agree a collective way forward”.
He insisted a “really strong collective will to complete the season remains”.
But he also admitted than a cancellation of the season was discussed for the first time.
“It’s the first time we’ve discussed curtailment,” he said. “It’s still our aim to finish the season obviously, but it’s important to discuss all of the options with our clubs.
“Obviously we won’t be playing until the middle of June. It doesn’t seem quite right to be talking about playing before we’ve taken a decision to return to the first stage of training.
“But in terms of how those matches will take place there’s a lot of water to pass under the bridge, and we’ll continue to assess the circumstances then.”