Brighton chief executive Paul Barber opposes Premier League neutral venues

West Ham would prefer their remaining home games of their relegation battle to take place at the London Stadium.

Brighton
Image: Brighton's Amex is one of the stadiums suggested could be used for the Premier League's 'Project Restart'

Brighton chief executive Paul Barber has voiced opposition to the idea of finishing the Premier League season at neutral venues.

It is understood clubs were told on Friday limiting action to a handful of selected stadiums was the only way it would be possible to complete the remaining matches of the 2019-20 season for safety reasons.

The latest updates to 'Project Restart' were well received but there remained opposition on competition and integrity grounds about using neutral venues with Barber confirming Brighton are among those with reservations.

West Ham, facing a very similar relegation battle to the Seagulls, would also prefer their home games to be played at the London Stadium.

"Clearly, we must all be prepared to accept some compromises, and we fully appreciate why playing behind closed doors is very likely to be a necessary compromise to play our remaining games while continuing to fully support the government's efforts to contain the spread of coronavirus," Barber said on the club's website.

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"But at this critical point in the season playing matches in neutral venues has, in our view, potential to have a material effect on the integrity of the competition."

Brighton, in 15th place on 29 points, were due to be at home for five of their remaining nine matches as they fight for Premier League survival, and Barber fears the loss of home advantage could prove critical - even without fans.

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They are one place and two points above the Hammers, who are only outside the drop zone on goal difference but remain committed to finishing the 2019/20 campaign should government go-ahead be given. Their remaining home fixtures include dates with Watford and Aston Villa - two of the teams below them in the table.

"The disadvantages of us not playing the league's top teams in our home stadium and in familiar surroundings, even with 27,000 Albion fans very unlikely to be present at the Amex, are very obvious," Barber added.

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"Clearly, we must accept there may also be some benefit from playing our remaining four away matches at neutral venues but the fixture list simply isn't equally balanced at this stage of the season, and we didn't play our first 29 matches of the season in this way. So, in our opinion one thing doesn't cancel out the other."

It is believed the Premier League will look at using between eight and 10 stadiums, with venues likely to be chosen for ease of ensuring social distancing - which would appear to favour more out-of-town sites.

Some reports had named the Amex as among the stadiums under consideration, but Barber said that was speculation at this stage.

"We haven't been asked if we would consider our stadium being used as a neutral venue for any remaining Premier League matches - by our colleagues at the league, the government or the police - and at this point we haven't been approached to have such a discussion either so I am unable to say why our stadium has been included in the reports," he added.

Sunday Supplement view: How can you bend PL out of shape?

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Debating the situation on the Sunday Supplement, Darren Lewis (Football Writer at The Daily Mirror) and Matt Lawton Chief Sports Correspondent at The Times) feel playing at neutral venues changes the competition that is already two-thirds complete...

Darren Lewis: "Since last week it's all moved on because the players have now come out a voiced their opposition to it. There has been a considerable shift in the appetite among fans as well.

"I'm very much a believer that if we are talking about retaining the sporting integrity, how can you bend the competition out of shape? How can you play a competition for two thirds of season when clubs are able to enjoy home advantage and then suddenly play the final third of the competition in other parts of the country or in Perth."

Matt Lawton: "You are already playing in an environment with no fans but if you give away that small advantage of playing on your own pitch, and all pitch dimensions are different, and the home comforts of your own dressing room, if you give that away as well and then you get relegated, you can see why clubs would be very unhappy about that.
It's a huge departure from the competition they signed up for in August.

"That is what the clubs, particularly at the bottom and particularly those that are in danger of losing their Premier League status and all the riches and profile that comes with that, are nervous about."

'Even one vote could scupper restart'

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Journalist Matt Lawton believes resistance against a restart by just one Premier League club could ultimately result in the current season being abandoned.

According to Lawton, the chief sports correspondent for The Times, there are "a group of clubs" in the Premier League who are sceptical about a return to action in the coming weeks.

But speaking to The Football Show, Lawton explained why opposition from only one club might be all it takes to scupper any proposed restart.

He said: "I think the 14 clubs [majority vote principle] would become irrelevant in this situation. If one club decide they don't want to play, l think it would be incredibly hard to argue against. If a club doesn't want to play, they have a very strong argument - especially if we go to neutral grounds.

"The first argument is the most obvious one and that's the safety of their players. If one club and their players are not happy about playing, and their safety cannot be guaranteed, and l can't see how it can be guaranteed…then a club could very legitimately argue against that [restarting the season].

"Secondly is the neutral venues idea. It's inevitable that is the only way they are going to finish the season. And there is a very legitimate argument against that the integrity of the competition is too far a departure from what they all signed up for in August.

"I think if one club decides they don't want to play, I don't see how they can be forced into it and it would be the end of the situation and the season would have to be curtailed."

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