Premier League clubs set to win stadium battle

Premier League clubs are reportedly expected to be able to use their own stadia to complete the 2019-20 season, with talks overcoming a push by authorities to enact a neutral venue plan for the top division of English football.

On Monday, Premier League chief executive Richard Masters insisted that all 20 clubs remained committed to completing the season after the UK government announced that professional sport could resume in England from June 1.

The announcement that professional sport could resume behind closed doors potentially paves the way for the Premier League to return next month, and clubs met on Monday to discuss the league’s latest plans. The possibility of playing matches at neutral venues was discussed but Masters stressed that clubs’ preference is for matches to be played at their originally scheduled venues.

COVID-19 has meant the Premier League season has been suspended since March 13, and Monday’s meeting reportedly saw as many as 12 clubs oppose the neutral venue plan. Such a proposal would have needed the support of 14 of the 20 teams.

The government and police are said to have been pushing the idea of neutral venues in the belief it was necessary to avoid the risk of fans gathering outside their clubs’ stadia, despite matches being played behind closed doors. On Monday, the country’s senior football police officer, Deputy Chief Constable Mark Roberts, is said to have reiterated this stance.

However, further talks held between Roberts, Masters, English Football League (EFL) chairman Rick Parry, Football Association (FA) chief executive Mark Bullingham, and officials from the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and Sports Grounds Safety Authority (SGSA), are said to have been positive in nature.

“It still depends on the police being satisfied that certain measures can be put in place but if we can make it safe there is a will to make it happen,” a source told The Times. “The government recognises the role football played in communicating the ‘stay at home’ message so there is a desire to help.”

The Premier League will now reportedly discuss the formation of a communications strategy with clubs, involving players and managers being engaged to reinforce the message that fans should stay at home and watch games on television. Clubs will also reportedly be asked to meet policing costs and provide stewarding to handle any issues that may occur outside stadia.

The latest developments may also point to a similar system being employed across the EFL. Roberts said in a statement reported by the Daily Mail: “We will be jointly exploring a range of options to identify a way forward which minimises any risks to public safety and unnecessary pressure on public services, but facilitates a sensible restart to the season, to support the economic and morale benefits associated with the sport.”