The Premier League is continuing to soldier on with plans to resume the 2019-20 Premier League season starting in mid-June, and is likely to use neutral stadiums in order to maintain the integrity of the competition.
The BBC is reporting that “up to ten” neutral site stadiums across England would be used to host and complete the remaining nine weeks of Premier League competition. The matches would be played behind closed doors with no fans present. Neutral venues would be used in an attempt to prevent supporters of participating clubs from congregating before and after the matches take place.
It is not mentioned which stadiums would be considered. “Neutral” implies no home stadiums of any Premier League club, so Wembley would be an obvious choice. Any number of Championship stadiums could be employed; since it is unlikely that there would be supporters present, the seating capacity would have no bearing on where the matches could be played.
There is growing resistance to the idea of resuming the Premier League season amidst the continuing COVID-19 crisis from Premier League players. Manchester City’s Sergio Aguero admitted that many players are “scared” about returning to play football while there is still so much uncertainty about the spread of the virus, especially players who have families with young children or elderly parents.
“The majority of players are scared because they have children and families. I’m scared, but I’m with my girlfriend here and I’m not going to be in contact with other people. I’m locked in my house and the only person I could infect is my girlfriend.
“They’re saying that there are people that have it and don’t have any symptoms but still infect you. That’s why I am here at home. Maybe I have the illness and I don’t even know.”
Brighton striker Glenn Murray expressed similar reservations.
“Face masks is going to be off-putting; it is not going to be natural. People will be ripping them off in games. It is quite farcical.
“I understand why people are desperate to get football on. It has to be done in a sensible way and in the right time and in a way that is going to keep everyone safe. There will be ambulances at training and games. Is it fair to take those from the NHS? I don’t know. It is not just two squads, there is a lot more involved and it puts more people at risk.
“I understand the public is desperate to get football back, but it is us that are going to be going out there and competing against other teams. We are not talking about guys in one community. We are talking about guys from all over the world who could be possibly carrying the disease. There are so many caveats.
“Everyone is in different situations. I have children at home. I wouldn’t want to jeopardise them. Some footballers have newly born children who might be more susceptible to getting the disease. Some are living with elderly parents. It is a really difficult situation to agree on.”
The BBC noted that several clubs, especially those who are near the bottom of the table, have expressed discomfort with the idea of using neutral stadiums to finish the league season because of the massive importance home-field advantage plays in promotion/relegation, and because of the currently unresolved situation surrounding players with expiring contracts in June. However, taking relegation off the table this season could sway a few of those clubs to accept the league’s proposal; under that scenario, 2-3 Championship clubs could still be promoted and the Premier League run with a 22 or 23 club season next year, with five or six clubs relegated in at the end of the 2020-21 season.
The Premier League is hoping to follow in the Bundesliga’s footsteps as the second major European football league to move towards resumption of play, though there remain huge questions over player safety and what would happen should a player or multiple players test positive for coronavirus after the league restarts.