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Football after coronavirus: How many people do you need for a match to go ahead?

Football may return behind closed doors due to coronavirus crisis; Top-level sport in England could restart behind closed doors from June 1

premier league
Image: Football is likely to return behind closed doors, but how many people are needed?

Twenty-two players, two managers, a referee and two assistants, right? Wrong.

If football is to return any time soon, it will likely be with no fans in the stadium after the government announced on Monday that top-level sport in England could restart behind closed doors from June 1. For that to happen, stadiums will need to keep personnel to a minimum, but exactly how many people is that?

The answer, as you'd expect, varies.

Some reports suggest a Premier League game needs anything between 250 and 500 personnel present, whereas lower down in the Football League there has been suggestions that anything between 100 and 180 are needed in a stadium.

West Ham vice-chairman Karen Brady recently said: "Everyone at the stadium - and even behind closed doors this is about 300-500 people - including security, staff, medical officers, players, referees and media, will have to have temperature checks, fill out health questionnaires and observe social distancing."

Where can cuts from those groups realistically be made? Here, we breakdown who may be needed for an English league game to go ahead...

Team staff

Atalanta celebrate their win in an empty stadium
Image: Several games were played behind closed doors before football was halted due to coronavirus

First of all, the staff on the football side take up a large chunk. Two teams of 18 players (including substitutes), plus around a dozen staff each, including physios and doctors. Then there's five match officials - the referee, two assistants, fourth official and refereeing assessor. That's around 60 already.

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The kitman, an essential part of most matchdays, could realistically be dropped if players brought their own kit or if another coach took on the job.

Then there's safety officers; you're talking anything between five and 10 for a Championship game, and anything up to 30 for a Premier League game. However, with no fans in the stadium, that number could realistically be slashed.

Stadium and safety

A view of locked gates at a football stadium
Image: Some reports suggest a Premier League game need anything between 250 and 500 people

With a potential for two games a week on some pitches, ground staff will be essential to keep the surface in fine condition; some Premier League teams employ more than a dozen ground staff, but there are far fewer in the EFL. They could, however, treat the pitch in an empty stadium before and after games while not being present while the game is being played.

There are some personnel that couldn't be reduced in number, however. Your top-flight games need at least four paramedics, an ambulance driver, depending on the safety certificate at that stadium, as well as police officers, stewards and stadium officials to keep the ground safe from any unwanted intruders.

Those you may not expect...

The team of ball boys and girls, usually around a dozen, could be slashed, but would still be needed in some form if the ball flies into an empty stand, and even though the majority of VAR work takes place at Stockley Park, Hawk-Eye need technicians at the ground, particularly to test goal-line reviews.

There are additional questions to ask. Would a gathering of over 100 people require catering? How much security is needed for players and staff? Then there's Premier Leauge Match Managers, club operations directors, the heads of facilities, club communications officers, and quite simply, a team to open and close the stadium.

So, we're at around 120 to 160 before we've even got to media.


Image: At least 70 broadcast staff are typically used at live football games

In a normal Premier League live broadcast game, there can be anything over 70 broadcast staff present, including camera operators, vision engineers, security, riggers, production staff, reporters, commentators and pundits.

Usually, between a third and a half are located inside the stadium during a game, with the rest located in a compound within the site of a stadium. However in some stadiums, like the Emirates and Wembley, that compound is located under the stands, within the walls of stadiums.

With studios likely to be at a remote location, this number could be cut, and for non-broadcast games, for instance 3pm Saturday Premier League games, around 40 broadcast staff are given access.

Meanwhile, there is no indication as to whether written press will be present in press boxes which hold anything from around 20 to 80 journalists, though Brighton chief executive and deputy chairman Paul Barber has suggested some journalists may be placed across different stands to maintain social distancing.

"You have the operational challenges of how it would work in terms of the emergency services and the last thing we would want is to put any pressure on them," said Barber. "Then of course there's the media, would we be putting journalists in different stands all over the ground to maintain social distancing rules and if we did then how would that work?"

For lower league and EFL games, the number of media required is greatly reduced.

AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND - MARCH 16: A general view of Mt Smart Stadium ahead of a New Zealand Warriors NRL press conference at Mount Smart Stadium on March 16, 2020 in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)
Image: Essential safety officers and medical staff are needed for a game to go ahead

England's behind-closed-doors Nations League clash with Croatia in October 2018 saw around 500 people present, though that included around 200 executive ticket holders, officials and guests, with no reduction in media.

There have been suggestions a traffic light system could be used to indicate how many people could be allowed into stadiums: green would be a relaxed number, without fans, when the crisis has calmed down, amber for a stripped down version of around 250 people, and red for a further reduction on that number.

In Germany, Bundesliga chief executive Christian Seifert has suggested games will need around 240 people present, from players to production staff.

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