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Opinion

Neutral stadiums issue preventing Premier League restart is surely not going to be the reality

7 months ago
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Increasingly, the issue of using neutral stadiums is being put forward as the thing that could prevent the Premier League clubs completing this 2019/20 season.

Police chiefs claiming that if clubs were using their normal stadiums to host games, it would / could lead to major problems due to large numbers of fans congregating outside when matches are played.

Brighton, Watford and Aston Villa have now all gone public in objecting to the proposal and there are claims of other clubs, especially ones threatened by potential relegation, also against the use of neutral venues.

For me personally, the whole thing is ludicrous for two main reasons.

Firstly, I think these claim/fears of massive crowds gathering outside St James Park if Newcastle played at home, or other clubs did the same, are way off the mark. It is likely every single one of the remaining PL games would be shown live on TV and very possible they could be made free to view for all. So instead of sitting at home watching the game, instead thousands of fans are going to make a special trip to stand outside a stadium, especially with all the pubs still shut, that is not going to happen.

Secondly, if indeed the Premier League do push ahead with the idea of using neutral venues, the justification for objecting to it is embarrassing. For one thing it would be the same for all clubs, whilst without fans in stadiums any kind of advantage a home team has, is surely minimal. When you then add the overall picture of how the virus is affecting society, clubs should rightly be called out if they prevent the return of football purely due to selfish self-interest. It is just cynically using the virus situation to try and prevent relegation by any means necessary.

After the latest shambles of a briefing by Boris Johnson on Sunday night, the Premier League meeting on Monday will feature a vote on whether player contracts are to be extended until the end of the rescheduled season (rather than ending on 30 June).

It is understood though that Premier League clubs will not be voting on whether or not to use neutral venues at Monday’s meeting. That vote is set to take place later in May and before voting, Premier League bosses are also waiting for government guidance on the criteria for bio-security at events and ground-safety licensing.

In talking against the idea of neutral venues, it is embarrassing to hear the likes of Watford (see blow) claiming that this is all about ‘sporting integrity’, the idea of using ‘Premier League’ and ‘sporting integrity’ in the same sentence is cringeworthy.

Likewise, clubs and players themselves, trying to claim that there are greater health risks facing footballers than people in other workplaces, is embarrassing. Players in the open air in a controlled setting where everybody they come into contact with is repeatedly tested, compare that to people working in local shops and supermarkets coming into contact with thousands of people every week who haven’t been tested and / or they haven’t got a clue as to whether or not they have the virus.

Watford Chairman Scott Duxbury talking to The Times:

“I, of course, absolutely accept we cannot have supporters in the stadium. That goes without saying in the present situation.

“However, we are now told we cannot play our remaining home games at Vicarage Road and the familiarity and advantage that brings.

“This against a backdrop of players who, having seen their lives turned upside down along with the rest of the world, are suddenly expected to perform as if nothing has happened, despite the rest of society probably still facing the kind of restrictions unenforceable on a football pitch.

“We have club medical staff working under conditions that no doctor or physio has ever experienced with guidelines that, in no small part, are based at this stage on supposition rather than scientific fact.

“And with all these compromises and health risks we are asked to finish a competition that bears no resemblance to the one we started, which could end a small club like Watford’s time in the Premier League.

“So is this fair? Does it have any semblance of sporting integrity? Of course not.”

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