Arsenal game with Liverpool on Christmas Eve under threat as lack of stewards puts safety certificate in doubt
Controversial plans to stage Liverpool’s visit to Arsenal on Christmas Eve face being derailed by stadium safety concerns amid the reluctance of stewards to staff the game.
Talks remain ongoing between Arsenal, Islington Council, the Metropolitan Police and Liverpool over a proposal to broadcast the Premier League’s first Christmas Eve match since 1995 but, as well the threat of a fan boycott, there are now fears that it will not be possible to meet safety regulations.
Clubs must get a safety certificate from their local council for every match and, as of this morning, it is understood that Arsenal were still unable to guarantee that sufficient numbers of stewards would be willing to work at that time.
The issue was also discussed and voted on at a meeting of the Arsenal Supporters’ Trust on Monday night, with 99 per cent of members saying that they would be opposed to a possible 4pm Christmas Eve kick-off. Just under half - 45 per cent – also said that they would not attend if the match is staged at this time. A spokesman for the AST warned that there could be “a record number of empty seats at The Emirates” should the match take place on Christmas Eve.
As part of the Premier League’s £5.135 billion broadcast deal, Sky owns the rights to three matches each weekend; two on a Sunday and one on a Saturday. BT Sport have one match on a Saturday but, should Sky moves its game back to the Saturday, it would effectively lose its ‘Super Sunday’ picks.
The situation occurred previously in 2000 and 2006 but Sky had exclusive domestic rights and so moved their televised fixtures to the Saturday. The situation will not again arise on a Sunday until 2023.
Liverpool and Arsenal are obliged to make every effort to meet the requirements of broadcasters – and clubs receive additional payments of more than £1 million for each televised game – but both have major concerns about playing the game on Christmas Eve.
As well as the stewarding issue, they are worried about transport and how fans will get back home ahead of Christmas Day. Although there is a train from London Euston to Liverpool Lime Street at 9.21pm, fans travel from many other locations – including even abroad – to regularly support two such popular and international clubs. The clubs are also currently unsure whether matches currently scheduled for Boxing Day would definitely be moved to Dec 27 so as to avoid two matches in three days.
With this season ending a week earlier to accommodate the World Cup, all Premier League clubs are already currently scheduled to play on Dec 30 and again, 48 hours later, on New Year’s Day. Sky, though, have paid around £11 million for each of its televised games and could point out that they are simply following a contract for which they alone paid more than £4bn. It was also the clubs themselves who collectively agreed the conditions around how their matches would be sold to the highest bidder.
They would have known that this Christmas Eve fell on a Sunday and no restrictions were placed in the broadcast contract. Sky are due to announce their televised games for this period of the season on Oct 16.