Premier League restart: Who decides whether a game is held at home or at neutral venue?
Everton have requested a meeting with Liverpool City Council's Safety Advisory Group (SAG) to discuss playing the Merseyside derby at Goodison Park and would prefer to play the game at their home ground
By Geraint Hughes
Last Updated: 03/06/20 4:15pm
As discussions and debate about whether a Premier League club can host a ‘home’ fixture or if it has to be played at a ‘neutral’ venue intensify, Sky Sports News analyses who actually makes recommendations and the final decision.
The Premier League season is due to restart on June 17 behind closed doors, with discussions still ongoing as to where certain fixtures will take place. The subject of neutral venues and a number of other topics will form the agenda at the next shareholders' meeting, due to take place on Thursday.
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Last week the police, via a co-ordinated effort from the National Police Chiefs' Council (NPCC), identified five fixtures out of the 92 remaining that could potentially be required to be played at a neutral venue.
One of these fixtures is the Merseyside derby, which is due to take place on the first weekend of Project Restart. Everton have requested a meeting with Liverpool City Council's Safety Advisory Group (SAG) to discuss playing the game at Goodison Park. Everton would prefer to play the game at their home ground.
Despite the police clearly being heavily involved in discussions, they cannot make a unilateral decision on where games are played - that must come from a local authority which will engage the expertise of the SAGs.
Who and what are SAGs?
In the case of football matches, they provide specialist advice to the local authority, which is ultimately responsible for issuing safety certificates.
As the Sports Grounds Safety Authority says: "In practice, [the SAG] also provides the vital forum within which the local authority and other agencies may develop a corporate approach to safety at the sports grounds concerned, while each exercising its own responsibilities."
A SAG is made up of a number of experts around sports ground safety, from police to fire and rescue and, given the coronavirus crisis, medical experts representing the views of Public Health England and therefore the UK Government.
The Merseyside derby
The views of individual clubs, such as Everton, who clearly wish and believe they can safely host the Merseyside derby at Goodison Park, are also heard, but decision-making has to come down to the evidence presented in front of the SAG.
Everton will need to present more than belief that they can safely host the fixture, they will require evidence to satisfy any local authority.
The same process applies to the police. While the Merseyside derby is one of those five fixtures to have been identified as having the potential to require a neutral venue, the key word there is potential. The police cannot make unilateral decisions about where a football match is played, they must provide their concerns and evidence as to why a neutral venue is needed.
Merseyside Police released a statement last week which appeared to suggest they had no problems policing the derby. However, if the content of their statement is read thoroughly it says they have no problem policing the game on the grounds of crime and disorder.
When it comes to public health, however, they said they must leave those decisions to others, namely Public Health England, whose advice and policy is followed by government.
While crime and disorder is clearly a very important factor for police around any football match, public health concerns right now are acute. Regardless, policy around the policing of football is not left to individual forces, it is co-ordinated via the UK Football Police Unit and the NPCC.
It is understood that Liverpool City Council and their SAG will meet next week to discuss Premier League matches that fall under their jurisdiction, while other SAGs are expected to meet in 'due course'.
The current list of five matches that could potentially be played at neutral venues remains under daily review by police and that list could see further fixtures added or removed in the future.
A number of other outstanding topics to deal with the logistics of Project Restart will be discussed at Thursday's shareholders' meeting, ahead of a second due to be held on June 11.
Ongoing questions about the prospect of scrapping relegation, using five substitutes - as the Bundesliga has adopted since its restart - and whether clubs can expand their existing 25-man squads to deal with the intensity of the last nine games of the season are all due to be on the agenda.
So too will the topic of VAR, which has proved a polarising topic in its first season in the Premier League. FIFA has given leagues the opportunity to scrap its usage upon their restart, but the Premier League wants to keep it - as clubs believe the integrity of the competition would be compromised if VAR was not used for the entire season.
Sky Sports will show 64 live Premier League games. In addition to the 39 matches scheduled to be broadcast on Sky before the coronavirus interruption, 25 more matches will be available on both Sky Sports Premier League and Sky's free-to-air Pick channel.