Crystal Palace and Millwall are continuing to train remotely despite some London football clubs allowing their players to return to their training facilities this week, with strict protocols in place to ensure they adhere to social distancing rules.
On Monday, West Ham and Arsenal became the first Premier League clubs to allow players to use facilities at their training grounds, individually, since the suspension of football. They were quickly followed by Tottenham and Brighton. Millwall have not announced when they intend to return training after already pushing back suggested dates twice, however, Palace are thought to be planning for players to be able to access their training ground for individual sessions imminently.
This coincides with the government’s desire to get football and sports back up and running as soon as possible with the department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport set to lead a taskforce involving medical scientists and leading sports bodies to assess when sports can return and under which safety protocols.
In addition to the new government taskforce which will be holding regular meetings the Premier League will hold their next meeting, between representatives of all 20 clubs, on Friday. The previous meetings with the stakeholders of the league have not resulted in any significant decisions being made although each meeting has resulted in the reassertion of the league’s desire to finish the season when safe to do so. However since the last meeting there have been significant developments on the continent which could influence the Friday’s meeting.
UEFA, Europe’s governing body for football, has given all European leagues a deadline of May 25 to communicate intentions on how they intend to finish their season or how they wish to end it if completing the season is not viable. The Premier League will also look to other European leagues for precedents being set with France, Holland and Belgium all cancelling their football seasons after their respective governments banned sports or major events until September. While the Italian government, much like the British, have endorsed the prospect of helping sports return as soon as possible and the German topflight announced last week that they would be in a position to restart as soon as May 9 with government approval with their sides already returning to training earlier in April.
Speaking to parliament Oliver Dowden, Culture Secretary, confirmed that he had already been in contact with Premier League sides, he said: “I personally have been in talks with the Premier League with a view to getting football up and running as soon as possible in order to support the whole football community.” He added that any move to restart would have to be consistent with public health guidance including the governments five tests for easing the lockdown being met.
The Premier League has been suspended since March 13 and Palace have been training together remotely during the shutdown. Similar to many clubs Palace have been using services such as Zoom to train as a group from home although there is an eagerness to get back to the training centre as soon as possible.
Manager Roy Hodgson, speaking to Sky Sports, said: “A telephone contact or a Zoom contact; it’s nice to see the players are taking their work so seriously and working very hard to stay fit during this time. But it’s not ideal that form of contact and I think I speak for everyone in football in saying I can’t wait for the time when we see them again in a training environment.”
The future of Millwall’s season is less clear. While the EFL have confirmed their desire to complete the current season there are questions over whether it would be financially viable to complete the season behind closed doors, like the Premier League intend, due to the increased dependency on gate receipts and match day revenue for clubs outside the topflight. Opening stadiums and training centres would also prevent Millwall form keeping a number of staff on the governments furlough scheme, estimated at around 70 people, as they would be required to work.
The EFL are also holding regular meetings to assess the possible return strategies for all three division below the Premier League.