The latest blogger to grasp the Project Guest Blog baton is Phil Huish, who has some searching questions to ask of the Premier League before their own pet project can safely begin…
For context, I’m a City season ticket holder who lives in exile. Every match I attend includes six hours in the car and midweek fixtures involve doing all of that driving on the same day. My first season as a season ticket holder was the relegation season to League One.
In the time I’ve been a supporter, like most of us, I’ve never known anything like this and it’s left me with questions I think the Premier League should provide sufficient answers to if they are to restart the league…
1. How can sporting integrity be maintained when the last 92 matches are played under different circumstances than the first 288?
The Premier League has consistently stated that it needs to complete the league in order to maintain ‘sporting integrity of the competition’ but I fail to see how this is possible when the last 92 matches will be played in completely different circumstances than the first 288.
Without the fans that isn’t possible, and I would argue just having a break of ten weeks and starting again like nothing had happened would barely be under the same circumstances. On top of this, there are a number of proposed rule changes that would destroy the argument for sporting integrity. This is just kite-flying to see what gets shot down; politicians do it all the time and it never works for them.
2. What happens when one or more of the 300 people at each match test positive for COVID-19?
When thinking about this, remember that it took Mikel Arteta to test positive before they suspended the league in the first place and only then at the last minute.
As I write this Brighton have had a third player test positive for COVID-19. If this was in the middle of the restarted season, who gets quarantined? The team? the team that they last played? the officials?
That’s all fine but if teams are playing Tuesday / Saturday like in the Championship, you’d have two or three teams and sets of players who could have been exposed to COVID-19 in the preceding two weeks – each of them having played other matches, so you’d have to quarantine the teams they’d played too. It wouldn’t take long for all of the teams to be unable to play.
3. How do the Premier League plan to prevent fans gathering together around matches? When Liverpool win the league, officially, when they are presented with the trophy?
If the VE day celebrations are anything to go by, people will gather together around matches. You can’t stop it. How can it be responsible to put on matches when you know that fans will congregate around the stadium where it is taking place? It would also be irresponsible to ask the police to break up the gatherings as they have better things to do. Assuming everything else goes according to plan, how do you stop half the population of Liverpool from celebrating their first league title in 30 years?
4. What is the plan for next season if fans are not allowed at matches until December? What if it is March or July 2021 or later?
Given the way things are going at the moment, it is hard to see how fans will be allowed back into stadia before autumn at the earliest. Do we end up with a season starting without fans and ending with them? This will be just as unfair as the current proposals. Ignoring the Premier League for a second, football without fans at the matches is not commercially viable. At all.
Even the Premier League could only sustain it for a short time because you only fall in love with football by attending matches. A long-term plan needs to be formed by the footballing authorities on how to get fans back into the game. This, unlike Project Restart, must bring all stakeholders with it. If you alienate the fans you’ll risk undoing all of the work that leagues and clubs have done over the last 30 years.
5. Does the Premier League think that they have done everything that they can to bring the fans of all clubs with them in this?
From my viewpoint, all the talk of Project Restart has come from the Premier League and hasn’t taken all of the clubs, let alone the players and fans, along with it. There has been no fan engagement in this and there has been no open and honest dialogue with the whole footballing community.
I will still love watching Norwich as much as I ever have but I have grown tired of the Premier League mismanagement of this situation. I will put my football fandom on hold while I cannot attend Carrow Road. This is all because of the way that the Premier League has pushed the earliest restart possible without bringing me along.
And it will be too late if Project Restart results directly or indirectly in the death of someone from the football community. The blame for that death will rest solely with Project Restart and the Premier League.