Consideration should be given to playing high-stakes matches at neutral venues if football returns this season to minimise the impact on the emergency services, the national football policing unit has said.
Playing all the remaining Premier League, EFL and FA Cup matches in the 2019-20 season at their original venues would “present challenges” to the police, said DCC Mark Roberts as governing bodies continue to hold talk about a safe return amid the coronavirus pandemic. Roberts flagged up the possibility of matches where titles, promotion or relegation are on the line being relocated, or being prevented from going ahead if crowds were to gather outside the original venues.
“We’ve done the work assessing the remaining fixtures – I think it’s 92 to finish the Premier League season and 341 in the Football League, seven to complete the FA Cup,” he said. “Playing all those fixtures would present challenges, that’s an awful lot of people moving around the country, and if they were all played at the originally planned stadiums then that does present some challenges.
“We all need to look at options about what games absolutely need to be played. Let’s look at how they can be managed, potentially at their own stadiums but equally if we can see benefits of playing at a neutral, controlled venue, both from the health aspects of it but also minimising disruption to the police, the ambulance service and all those other functions that are going to be stretched as people start going about their normal business.
“Any group of football fans can probably highlight now the fixtures that are probably likely to generate attention.”
The Premier League is understood to have told its clubs that only approved venues can be used – operating to a higher certification than in normal circumstances. Further details are due to be presented to the clubs at their next regular shareholders’ meeting on Friday.
“It’s not a case of us imposing anything on [the football authorities] or telling them [what to do],” Roberts added. “I think it’s a case of, in the first instance, football satisfying the government that they can hold the matches and that it’s safe for everyone to do it in terms of players, officials, coaching staff, broadcasters.
“So you get that first stage of ‘how do you make it safe to play football at the location?’ and it may be that actually that mandates them being played at specific neutral venues where it can be controlled. So I think the health aspect of it might dictate the security aspect of it.”
The culture secretary, Oliver Dowden, says the Premier League is giving consideration to how it can best make matches available to view without supporters being able to attend. Concerns have been raised by the digital, culture, media and sport committee chair, Julian Knight, that if matches are only available via subscription it may encourage people to go to a friend’s house to watch.
Roberts added: “One of the biggest considerations has got to be where we are with the lockdown, because of course it does evolve. But a concern might be that if things are screened and it’s behind closed doors is it going to encourage people to come together either in small or larger venues? That’s primarily a health concern but you wouldn’t want to see the police being called to manage people going somewhere to watch a match.”
Roberts insists the safety of all involved is the overriding consideration, but that it is also the role of the police to enable industries like football to resume. He added that he had spoken to the authorities in Germany this week about how it was planning to manage the resumption there, due to take place next month.