The Premier League were on collision course on Friday night with the Government after cancelling all test events until more supporters are able to attend.
In a strongly-worded statement, which took many in the industry by surprise, the Premier League condemned the Government’s strict limit on numbers as insufficient to properly test fans’ safety and also spelt out the economic consequences of their prolonged absence from grounds.
It claims the lockout is costing football £100million a month and will lead to significant job losses among the 100,000 who work on matchdays.
The letter reflects the frustration of their clubs at the new cap on test events which has threatened to derail plans for crowds to return to matches on a permanent basis from October 1.
Manchester United and Tottenham had both scheduled test events with crowds of in excess of 10,000 people later this month which will no longer take place.
The Premier League’s letter to the Government followed a similar one from the Rugby Football League, whose clubs are losing £2m a week due to the absence of fans, but there was conspicuous silence from the other major sports and the FA, who are preferring to lobby behind the scenes.
The strength of the Premier League’s language was a surprise with some sources saying it risked, antagonising Downing Street, given the wealth of the top-flight clubs and the fact that Government backing was instrumental in them completing last season, which saved them hundreds of millions of pounds.
The RFU and ECB are also pushing for spectators to return, with rugby’s case particularly pressing given they have already put 20,000 tickets on sale for England’s game against the Barbarians next month which is the start of a five-match international series at Twickenham, but both governing bodies declined to comment last night.
‘With test events now capped at 1,000 supporters we believe they will not provide any opportunity to properly test and evaluate measures designed to maximise fan safety,’ the Premier League statement read.
‘Therefore, Premier League clubs will defer holding test events until a sufficient number of fans are allowed back to enable thorough trials to take place. At 1,000 supporters, not only would there be little to learn from a test event, but each match would be heavily loss-making.
‘For each month of the season without fans, more than £100m is lost to football across the leagues, with consequent damage to the local and national economy. It also harms the employment prospects of more than 100,000 people whose jobs depend on match-day activities.’
The Government have said they will review the planned return of fans on October 1 later this month, with the Premier League claiming that they have already demonstrated they can be accommodated safely.
‘Our clubs have already prepared test events and can offer larger scale trials to prove it is possible to produce bio-secure, safe environments, as was proved through the successful delivery of Project Restart,’ they added.
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp added his voice to the debate, saying he is keen for fans to return and provide some much-needed ‘joy’ — but only when it is safe for them to do so.
‘We are still in difficult times, so in this environment where we sit here and talk about football we tend to forget that for a few minutes,’ said Klopp.
‘But I really hope that this will not be a season without supporters. I hope we can stick to the plans for October-November that some people can come back in a stadium.
‘I really hope that because we have to give these things a try as well. First and foremost we had to bring people back to work again, as a society, so that the economy can start getting healthy again in all countries. But now, after all the necessary stuff is in a better place than before, we are all human beings and human beings want to have some joy as well, to do the important work they have to.
‘I think we are part of that — giving joy to the people. If we can create a safe environment in the stadiums for people — and only then — there should be opportunity for them to come back. But I cannot decide if we are able to do that or not.
‘It’s not the most important thing in the world but it’s important that between all the worries and uncertainties we have we give the people the opportunity to go back in a football stadium. It is part of our life. I hope it will happen sooner rather than later.’