The Premier League has been brainstorming creative ways to make games behind closed doors a superior experience, and is also considering moving fixtures away from the traditional weekend schedule since supporters can’t go. The competition similarly plans a trophy presentation for the eventual champions, virtually certain to be runaway leaders Liverpool, but the idea of curtailing the season was not discussed at Monday’s latest video conference.
The Premier League and government also feel comfortable that ‘Project Restart’ is not taking from the national effort, in terms of testing and PPE amid the Covid-19 crisis.
Speaking in a press conference after Monday’s meeting, Premier League chief executive Richard Masters said that the success of the Bundesliga’s return had been a “positive” example for other competitions, particularly as regards the lack of supporters congregating around stadiums.
Download the new Independent Premium app
Sharing the full story, not just the headlines
That fear had been an obstacle to staging normal home-and-away games, that is set to return to the agenda at Friday’s meeting. Masters added that the German situation had offered ideas for the Premier League, but that they may seek to do things “differently”.
“We’re really pleased to see the Bundesliga get back to a good playing start yesterday,” Masters said.
“The football looked good. In terms of the way it is on television, I think that is going to develop. It’s only the first week, obviously.
“Interestingly, television viewing figures were positive. I think we’ll take a different approach, not better, but slightly different approach about the behind closed doors product and that was one of the things we were able to talk to clubs today, the direction of travel on. We have group of clubs and broadcasters together on that. All in all, I thought it was good. The other thing is we didn’t have, in any of the games, any fan issues, congregations or gatherings to speak of. It was a positive start for Bundesliga.
“That is helpful and it does add confidence that it can be achievable in this country.
“In terms of the precise nature of what we are planning, we haven’t really talked about it with the wide group yet so I don’t want to share too much of the plans.
“But obviously the big issue is that if there aren’t fans in the stadium, what does the viewing fan at home, what’s his experience like? And how different is it to a normal Premier League production and that’s the question we’re seeking to answer.”
Some of those ideas will involve the days games are played.
“Given we are trying to get the season away in a slightly truncated situation, we may look at some interesting scheduling options. Nothing we can confirm yet, but we’ve got to make it work for everybody.”
If Liverpool eventually win the league, then, there will be a televised trophy handover.
“If at all possible, we would like to have a presentation to give the players and staff the moment they have worked so hard for. We don ‘t want to lose that, unless it is not possible.
“We are focused on finishing the 2019-20 season, but we also have to plan for all eventualities.”
That is increasingly likely to be as a result of a game on the pitch rather than a mathematical formula, as Masters said curtailing the season did not come up in Monday’s meeting. There was more discussion about neutral grounds, but that is set to be talked about in greater detail over the next two meetings due to government guidelines.
“In terms of venues, yes we are working with clubs. We had a meeting last week with the DCMS, the police and the SGSA [Sports Grounds Safety Authority] and DCMS asked football to come forward with its proposals. We are planning to do that, working in conjunction with the EFL and have asked our clubs for lots of information. It’s an ongoing discussion.”
Medical advisor Mark Gillett meanwhile revealed that the competition has been working with the NHS, and that there is no concern about denying key workers equipment or testing.
“One of the things that was very important when we were putting together these protocols, I wanted to keep some perspective,” Gillett said. “So I’ve actually been working in the NHS on the frontline for the last four weeks so I could see what it was like for myself. There hasn’t been a problem with staff accessing tests if they needed it. I can’t comment on the national situation, but I can comment and speak as I find, and that’s how I found it.
“In terms of the testing programme, we took our advice from Public Health England, and I think as we move into this process we will probably be advised to test less, because for various reasons with the R number reducing and various technical specifications around that.
“We are working on a frequency that is on advisement from the Government, certainly we don’t want to waste a test and we’re sourcing these tests independently of any NHS supplies, so we won’t be compromising them in any way or form.”
Masters added: “I don’t think we would be doing it unless the Government were entirely comfortable that the things we were doing were not a burden on the national effort.”