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Leading Premier League clubs seek U-turn on neutral venues in Project Restart proposal


Premier League stakeholders are in negotiations on a return to action (Mike Egerton/PA)

Premier League stakeholders are in negotiations on a return to action (Mike Egerton/PA)


Premier League stakeholders are in negotiations on a return to action (Mike Egerton/PA)

The Premier League will ask the UK government to reconsider its stance on football having to restart at neutral venues after being urged to do so by at least 12 clubs, including Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal.

Opposition to having to play out the season at neutral venues has grown and Premier League chief executive Richard Masters is expected to raise the subject when he meets with the government this week.

The bottom six have been accused of trying to block a restart through their opposition to neutral venues. But the news that clubs of the size of Chelsea, Spurs and Arsenal want that aspect of the proposal to be revisited significantly strengthens their argument that clubs should not lose home advantage.

It is also believed that Leicester City, Newcastle United and Everton are among those not in favour of neutral venues, while Masters recognises that every club would rather play home and away.

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The UK government yesterday gave the green light for professional sport to resume behind closed doors from June 1 and it is understood any request to relax the stance over neutral venues will be listened to.

But a final decision will ultimately be made on the advice of the police and authorities, such as the Sports Ground Safety Authority.

There had been arguments that fans would try to gather at their home stadium on the day of games, but clubs are ready to lobby local police forces to claim that such a threat could be managed and will also speak to councils.

Asked about the opposition to neutral venues following yesterday's meeting with clubs, Masters said: "Just to reiterate, I think everybody would prefer to play home and away if at all possible. And it's clear to see that some clubs feel more strongly about that than others.

"It is an ongoing dialogue and, since Covid-19 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. We are in contact with the authorities and listening to that advice while also representing club views."

While clubs in the bottom six have voiced concerns about neutral venues potentially increasing the threat of relegation, clubs with big-money stadium sponsorship deals are worried about missing out on or having to pay back millions if they cannot play at their own grounds.

Questions have been raised as to why Bundesliga clubs are able to restart at their own grounds. Some of the big clubs also agree with those in danger of relegation that it would be unfair to decide positions by playing at neutral stadiums.

It had been thought that a number of grounds would be refused safety certificates over fears that fans would congregate on match days. But a number of clubs, having consulted supporters' groups, have argued that the situation would be manageable and are confident that matches could be staged without social distancing problems.

While the relegation-threatened clubs were joined by at least six allies in urging the Premier League to ask the UK Government to reconsider its stance on neutral venues, the subject may not prove to be a deal-breaker.

Clubs were warned that voiding the season or cancelling relegation were not options, as the prospect of curtailment and what it might look like was raised for the first time. The bottom three, Norwich City, Aston Villa and Bournemouth, are aware they would run the risk of voting to relegate themselves by opposing a restart of some kind.

Confidential Masters said: "I'm happy to reveal it [curtailment] was discussed for the first time, but the contents of that discussion have to remain confidential. What I can say is that all of the talk was about finishing the season. No conclusions were reached on any other models. Those are future conversations we may need to have."

Clubs did pass a vote that allows them to extend the contracts of players, whose deals were due to expire on June 30, until the end of the season, with agreements needing to be reached by June 23.

The Premier League will also this week meet with players, some of whom are angry they have not been consulted earlier and are worried that government and football authorities are trying to pressure them into a restart. (© Daily Telegraph, London)


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