EPL Boss Backs Clubs Opposed To Neutral Venues, Admits Season Could Be Cancelled

The English Premier League will support relegation-threatened clubs who have objected to the use of neutral grounds if the season resumes and will support them in putting those views to the authorities.

EPL chief executive Richard Masters made the disclosure following Monday’s video conference meeting with all 20 clubs about ‘Project Restart’ which aims for the season to resume next month.

Masters said there remains “a really strong collective will to complete the season”.

But he admitted that “curtailment” of the season was discussed for the first time at the meeting.

“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,” Masters said.

“We are in contact with the authorities and listening to that advice, while also representing club views in those discussions.”

Clubs were told a couple of weeks ago that playing at neutral stadiums is 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.

“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.

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.

“What was agreed today was that players can extend their contracts beyond 30 June, until the end of the season.

“It must be agreed by both parties and a later date can be scheduled for that, no later than 23 June so that date was pushed back a little to help with that situation.”