Irish backstop –
Aston Villa have joined Brighton and West Ham in publicly opposing the idea of completing the Premier League season at neutral venues as their chief executive, Christian Purslow, warned clubs would not support measures that increased the risk of the “£200 million catastrophe” that is relegation.
The chief executive of the League Managers’ Association, Richard Bevan, had said on Tuesday that he expected the season would be cancelled if clubs did not agree to neutral stadiums.
The plan to resume behind closed doors at between eight and 10 neutral grounds was discussed at the meeting of Premier League clubs last Friday and would need the backing of 14 of the 20 to be adopted. But while opposition has hardened among the division’s bottom six – Norwich, Villa, Bournemouth, Watford, West Ham and Brighton – it is unclear whether any of the other 14 would vote against the emergency measure of neutral venues.
It is understood that most if not all of those 14 clubs are in favour of using neutral stadiums as a means to get the season played to a conclusion. Some have complained that as they had played some difficult away games before the lockdown, they ought to be able to stage the returns on their own grounds – even with no fans – to preserve the integrity of the competition. But they have come to realise that in an imperfect world they must make compromises to achieve their main objective of finishing the season.
The neutral venues plan has been driven by the British police, partly because they are worried about the potential for fans of particular clubs to congregate outside stadiums for important matches.
It should be noted that, although unlikely, it could take only one club in the top 14 to switch to the other side of the argument and oppose neutral grounds for a potentially season-derailing impasse to take hold. Bevan was asked by the BBC whether the season would be cancelled if the vote among the clubs were not passed. “Yes, I think that is probably correct,” he replied.
Purslow said that neutral venues would punish clubs such as Villa, who have taken 17 of their 25 points at home. Concluding the season would bring television revenue but Purslow pointed out the financial cost of being relegated after playing all games away from Villa Park could be far greater.
We’ve got six home games left to play and any Villa fan would agree that giving up that advantage is a massive decision
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“At the bottom end of the table there’s a much smaller revenue base but the risk of relegation is probably a £200 million catastrophe for any club that mathematically could still go down,” Purslow told TalkSport. “When you say to any club, ‘We want you to agree to a bunch of rule changes that may make it more likely that you get relegated,’ they’re not thinking about TV money, they’re thinking: ‘My goodness, am I going to agree to something that results in me being relegated and losing £200 million?”
Addressing the prospect of neutral grounds, Purslow said: “Personally I’m against it. We’re a club that prides itself on home form. Two-thirds of our wins this season have come at home [five of seven]. We’ve got six home games left to play and I think any Villa fan would agree that giving up that advantage is a massive decision for somebody running Aston Villa and I certainly wouldn’t agree to that unless those circumstances are right.”
There is the feeling at some higher-placed clubs that the bottom six are positioning against neutral venues as a precursor to demanding that relegation be scrapped. That would be unacceptable to the broadcast companies whose money underpins the competition.
The Premier League clubs will meet again via conference call on Monday – the day after British prime minister Boris Johnson has detailed plans for easing the lockdown. The clubs’ meeting is expected to reflect mainly on what the government has said but also to take in the issue of players out of contract after June 30th and provisional plans for a return to group training.
Burnley manager Sean Dyche has said that his club and players “want the season to carry on and finish”.
“We are very pro the idea of moving forward when it’s safe. The players are clear-minded about that.”
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