Crystal Palace and Millwall are a step closer to returning to action after the government announced that professional sports can resume behind closed doors from 1 June.
Crystal Palace have already returned to individual training, with strict social distancing, and have been given until the end of the week to present all of their players with a 40 page document with training protocols for small group training which could begin next Monday. No player would be forced to return to training and players would need to give written consent to confirm they have read the protocol document and agree to the terms before being allowed to return.
Millwall are yet to return to training in any capacity and were intending to return on Friday 16 however this has been pushed back to 25 May at the earliest, following a Wednesday conference meeting between all 24 Championship clubs.
Speaking on a return to action, Millwall boss, Gary Rowett said: “If there is plans to get sport back on TV I think that is positive – at least there is a will to do it. Many people will be asked to return to work and might not feel comfortable but might still have to accept it. At some point, clubs will have to accept some risk. How big a risk is too great? I am firmly of the opinion that if we can get back at a low risk, we should. We have to consider it from the financial point of view, for morale, and for saving businesses.”
Like Crystal Palace in the Premier League, 13 June is the most likely return date for Millwall at present, with the EFL once again reaffirming their commitment to finishing the season in Wednesday’s board meeting, most teams believe they will need three to four weeks of training before returning to competitive action.
One of the biggest concerns for sides in the Championship (like Millwall returning to action) is if they can be financially viable playing games behind closed doors. While playing behind closed doors will ensure broadcasting contracts are fulfilled. Unlike the Premier League most Championship sides rely on gate receipts as their main sources of revenue while they will still have to pay to implement all the necessary safety protocols and testing regimes.
The EFL statement released after Wednesday’s board meeting acknowledged these different challenges. The statement said: “Current attention is clearly on the immediate next steps, but the long-term impact on the league and its clubs remains as stark as previously outlined, and solutions are still required to fill the financial hole left by the crisis. The consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic will not be rectified simply by a return to play behind closed doors.”
Crystal Palace and their fellow Premier League sides have all been issued guidance by the government on how they can return to training in small groups which includes working in groups of no larger than five and training for a maximum of 75 minutes at a time. These measures are in addition to the ones currently adopted for individual training which includes players arriving in training gear with their own drinks and all non-physical sessions such as tactics being done by video call. Only essential medical treatments would be permitted under strict protocol ruling out player massages.
One of the biggest issues still facing the Premier League and their return to training is the use of neutral venues. This was a condition placed by the police and government if football was to return in attempt to prevent large numbers of fans gathering outside home grounds when games were taking place.
Premier League CEO, Richard Masters confirmed on Monday that all 20 teams were opposed to this idea, only Brighton, Watford and Aston Villa went public in their opposition. He said: “All clubs would prefer to play at home and they accept it’s an issue to be addressed. That pretty much summarises it. I think some of our clubs would argue that in relation to policing their own fans that they have a good relationship with them, and that they encourage their own fans not to turn up outside their home venues while they’re playing behind closed doors. They’re in a better position to control that, but it’s not a matter of convincing, this has to be a decision that’s come to mutually.”
Masters also confirmed that the league will support sides in making proposals to the government and footballs’ policing unit to try and have the stance reversed however the 25 May deadline set by UEFA to provide a plan on how to conclude the season is looming closer.