Premier League and EFL prioritise season conclusion even behind closed doors

The Premier League and Football League have reiterated their desire to see the 2019-20 season completed, but it remains too early for either to put a date on when.

Premier League clubs will discuss how best to complete the season at a meeting on Friday, when a proposal to finish the campaign by June 30 is expected to be put forward. (Picture:Nigel French/PA Wire)

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It seems almost certain, though, it will be behind closed doors, and only once mass testing is possible.

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On the day top-flight clubs held a two-hour video conference to continue contingency planning for when football can resume after the coronavirus lockdown, Football League chairman Rick Parry wrote an open letter to supporters to update them on thinking within his organisation.

Plans are being worked on to enable supporters of English Football League sides to watch all their team’s matches from home as the league’s chairman Rick Parry admitted it remains “unclear” when fans will be able to attend games again. (Picture: Martin Rickett/PA Wire)

“In these circumstances, open and honest communication is more important than ever,” he wrote in a letter published on the League’s website.

It had been speculated concerns around the legal complications of a later date might lead some clubs to call for a June 30 deadline for the completion of Premier League fixtures, but this is not thought to have even been discussed. Playing contracts typically run until the end of June.

Most clubs have nine fixtures to complete this season, although Sheffield United have 10. The Football League is at a similar stage, albeit Doncaster Rovers have 12 matches outstanding, and will hope to qualify for the League One play-offs, which could add a two-legged semi-final and a final.

A week earlier, the League Managers Association said they were not prepared to resume matches until all players had been tested, and this would appear to be the Premier League’s stance too.

The thinking regards playing behind closed doors would be to get football going again quicker than would otherwise be possible, and the pay-off is making matches available to fans from their homes.

Parry called the presence of matchday fans “critical to the business model of league football,” but stressed: “The point at which you will be able to attend games again remains unclear.

“Please be assured, however, that we are going to welcome you back to stadiums as soon as it is safe to do so. Your contribution to the matchday experience and atmospheres created is something we should never take for granted.

“And whilst we are unfortunately without the presence of the hundreds of thousands of supporters who pass through EFL turnstiles each week, we will endeavour to bring live football direct into your homes once it returns either via our broadcast partners, iFollow or equivalent club streaming services.”

With the Government not due to review its lockdown measures for three weeks, predicting when that might be is difficult. A week ago, Parry advised his clubs not to expect to resume training before May 16 at the earliest.

“The Premier League and our clubs are working through complex panning scenarios,” said a spokesperson.

“We are actively engaging with stakeholders, including broadcast partners, and our aim is to ensure we are in a position to resume playing when it safe to do so and with the full support of the Government.”

Germany’s Bundesliga has estimated even a match behind closed doors would require around 240 people once the players, coaches, medics, officials, camera crews and other necessary staff are counted.

Football does not want to appear insensitive to the bigger issues affecting the country and the two leagues have been very careful in each public utterance to make that and their support for the NHS clear, but the clubs do need matches to resume so the top division can deliver on its multi-billion-pound broadcasting deals. The value of matches still to be screened is estimated at £762m.

The LMA were at pains to say players should only been tested after health workers. Compared to countries such as Germany, the UK is lagging way behind in testing. Tellingly, neither league offered an update on the issue of player pay.

The majority of clubs are struggling to reach agreements on how much, if any, pay should be deferred or cut from players’ salaries.

Leeds United’s squad has agreed a deferral, and players at Doncaster and Bradford City are amongst those who have been furloughed.

Although the Premier League players have shown their willingness to help by setting up a charity foundation, there appears to be a reluctance to agree to measures which would reduce the Government’s tax take whilst potentially helping billionaire and millionaire owners more than those who most need support.

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