Premier League hold conference call to discuss ‘project restart’

Liverpool city’s mayor says resumption a ‘non-starter’ due to fans congregating

“Even if it was behind closed doors, there’d be many thousands of people who would turn up outside Anfield,” said Liverpool mayor Joe Anderson. Phototraph: Paul Ellis/AFP/Getty

“Even if it was behind closed doors, there’d be many thousands of people who would turn up outside Anfield,” said Liverpool mayor Joe Anderson. Phototraph: Paul Ellis/AFP/Getty

 

Liverpool have expressed dismay at claims by the city’s mayor, Joe Anderson, that the resumption of the Premier League is a “non-starter” because fans will congregate outside Anfield to celebrate Jürgen Klopp’s team winning the title.

Club officials have been in talks with Anderson, Liverpool city council, supporters groups and Merseyside Police, among others, for several weeks over how to manage the prospect of Liverpool winning the league behind closed doors or at a neutral venue.

The mayor has broken ranks to tell the BBC and other broadcasters that the season should be ended, and Liverpool declared champions, owing to the risk to public health should fans gather outside Anfield to celebrate the club’s first league championship in 30 years.

“Even if it was behind closed doors, there’d be many thousands of people who would turn up outside Anfield,” Anderson said. “There’s not many people who would respect what we were saying and stay away from the ground, a lot of people would come to celebrate so I think it’s a non-starter.”

Premier League clubs will hold a conference call on Friday to discuss plans to complete the campaign – “Project Restart” – with matches behind closed doors and at neutral grounds on the agenda. Anderson said police and public health authorities shared his concerns that, even if Liverpool win the league at a neutral ground, crowds would gather outside Anfield.

The mayor added: “Even then, I guess that a lot of people would turn up outside Anfield to celebrate and I understand the police’s concerns around that, so there’s a real difficulty here for us. I think it would be really difficult for the police to keep people apart and maintain social distancing if they were going to celebrate outside Anfield, it would be farcical.

“The police are right to be concerned about that as we are here in the city, and pubic health officials are also concerned about that, so we’d ask the Premier League and government to take into account all of these concerns that we have.”

Anderson’s comments, which are not the council’s official position, prompted a robust response from Liverpool. In a statement the Premier League leaders said: “We are aware of and disappointed by comments attributed to mayor Joe Anderson in a media interview which was published today.

Regular contact

“As well as a lack of evidence to support such claims, we would also point to recent discussions with mayor Anderson relating to the possibility of any behind-closed-doors football, which concluded that it is important that key stakeholders across the city continue to engage and work collaboratively.

“In recent weeks, we have engaged with supporters groups who have informed us of their determination to respect social distancing measures and, in the event of a resumption of football being announced, we would continue to work with them and other key stakeholders in keeping with our collective desire to achieve this crucial objective.

“As part of our ongoing operations, we are in regular contact with the mayor and his office and we hope these conversations can continue. In the meantime, our primary focus remains responding to the humanitarian crisis which continues to unfold and in particular providing ongoing support to various NHS initiatives and those experiencing food poverty and social isolation.”

Meanwhile, Premier League clubs have invested in coronavirus testing machines that can turn around results in two and a half hours as they gear up towards finding a way to complete the season.

The league is overseeing the initiative and it is understood that some clubs in the Championship have also purchased the machines, which cost £36,000 and are readily available.

The machines can test only one person every two and a half hours, meaning that clubs could realistically test seven employees each day with them. That, along with the cost, is probably why there is little demand for them from the NHS – whose test results take longer to return. It certainly sits easier with the clubs that they are not denying frontline workers access to testing.

Player and personnel testing is a major obstacle to English football finding a way to come back but the clubs are confident that with the machines they would have the means to check and safeguard their environments, particularly if they were to buy more than one machine.

At a meeting with its shareholder clubs on Friday, the Premier League will discuss new medical protocols devised to ensure a safe return to training and antigen testing for all players is one of the proposals.

No defining votes are expected on training or return-to-play protocols. Instead it will provide an opportunity for clubs to air their thoughts on possible next steps while the league waits for the go-ahead from government.

A meeting between the British department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and executives from a number of sports, including the Premier League, is due to take place later in the day.

– Guardian

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