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.
“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.”
This month Anderson commissioned Liverpool’s new public health director, Matthew Ashton, to investigate a potential link between the number of coronavirus cases in the city and playing the Liverpool v Atlético Madrid Champions League game on 11 March. The match, the last high-profile game in England before the shutdown, was attended by 3,000 people from Madrid at a time when Spain was n partial lockdown.
As for ending the Premier League season, Anderson told the BBC: “It isn’t just about Liverpool – they’ve clearly won the league – they deserve it, they should be crowned league champions. The bottom line is, though, this is about health and safety and people’s lives and I think football should have to come second in regards to making a choice here.”