NEW GROUNDS FOR OPTIMISM
United clubs ready for Government battle over issue of neutral venues
RICHARD MASTERS emerged from what was described as a “more convivial” meeting of the 20 Premier League clubs having quelled the rebellion.
The Premier League chief executive, still settling into the chair vacated by Richard Scudamore, was happy to discuss the threat of not getting this season finished after all.
In all probability, though, that is not going to happen.
The compromise of playing at neutral grounds only if the threat of relegation was removed was never raised. Nor is it likely to be, Masters said after yesterday’s clear-the-air session.
Moreover, with chairman Greg Clarke spelling out that the FA would insist that relegation happened with or without the final 92 games being played, suddenly the focus of those currently in the bottom three was on getting those games on.
The only question remaining now is: Where?
And that brings Masters into war with an adversary whose battle lines have been drawn against football since before the Premier League existed – a Conservative Government.
Margaret Thatcher was threatening the game with ID cards for fans before the Premier League was a golden glint in the leading clubs’ eyes.
The attempt to blame the Hillsborough tragedy on hooligans took three decades to unravel.
Now the worry is that drastic measures are required to stop fans from causing a second spike in the pandemic simply because they cannot help themselves.
In the 50-page document released yesterday to make sense of England’s new lockdown measures, it was pointed that the Government promised after June 1 to consider “permitting cultural and sporting events to take place behind closed doors for broadcast, while avoiding the risk of largescale social contact”.
Admittedly, there was not much social distancing two summers ago when Gareth Southgate’s Three Lions were uniting the nation.
Neutral venues will not stop supporters congregating somewhere to celebrate a title triumph or last-gasp escape from relegation. Common sense will.
That is what the Premier League now has to persuade the authorities – all the while pointing to the fact that Germany has no problem trusting its own fans from coping with Bundesliga games being played on a home-and-away basis.
Clubs would rather have every other game on their own back doorsteps, a bit of familiarity in an unfamiliar world. Logistically, it makes a lot of sense.
“It’s clear that some clubs feel more strongly about neutral venues than others,” Masters said.
“It is an ongoing dialogue. We are listening to that advice from the authorities while also representing club views in those discussions.
“We need to listen to each other. This has to be a decision that is come to mutually.
“It is people’s jobs and responsibilities to work out the best way of managing the risk of supporters turning up outside football matches and that’s why we need to listen to the advice.
“It’s about creating as little risk as possible in relation to fans coming to attend matches outside a behind-closed-doors environment.
“Some authorities think playing those matches at approved stadia, not the home venues, is the safest way forward.”