Sadiq Khan’s Premier League comments are an insult to fans of Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham
The possibility of some Premier League games, notably London derbies such as West Ham United versus Chelsea and Tottenham versus Arsenal, being held at neutral venues over safety concerns is an insult to supporters.
In particular the comments of Sadiq Khan on Thursday evening indicated a distrust of fans that is well past its sell-by date and lacking in much foundation.
“I know, human nature as it is, fans will turn up to see the coach arriving, to listen to the atmosphere – the players inside the stadium even though they’re not allowed in, to see the coach leaving, to buy t-shirts and scarves, police and councils need to enforce the rules,” the Mayor of London, who supports Liverpool despite being from south London, told LBC.
“The overwhelming measures to social distancing are still there, the overwhelming measures to lockdown are still there. The key thing has got to be what is safe.
“We can’t have fans congregating around the stadiums. We don’t want Premier League clubs in London to have fans congregating… we’ve got Tottenham vs Arsenal coming up. It’s really important clubs work with police and others to make sure we get this right.”
Yet there is no conclusive evidence that fans will flock to stadiums despite not being left in and the example set in Germany, where supporters groups have campaigned against fans gathering outside stadiums, has proven very successful.
Much of the speculation surrounding fans turning up surrounds congregations gathering outside Mestalla and Parc des Princes during Valencia’s game against Atalanta and PSG’s win over Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League.
Both games were played behind closed doors but, crucially, came before lockdown restrictions were imposed.
The grave reality of the pandemic had not set in and thus should not be considered as a fair comparison – even if some police forces are eager to lean heavily on it.
The language used by police chiefs is also inflammatory with Deputy Chief Constable Mark Roberts, head of the policing football unit, speaking of the need to “reduce the threat” of supporters gathering.
Do those pushing such concerns really think West Ham fans will hop on a train from Essex or Kent to stand outside a stadium most of them hate on a good day rather than watch it from the comfort of their homes? Often their team can be leading by a single goal and thousands will head for the exits in Stratford.
Will Arsenal fans make the unenviable journey from Seven Sisters to stare at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium’s facade?
Reaching Stamford Bridge via the District Line is a chore when a good service is running, not to mention a reduced output. Are Chelsea fans going to flock to Fulham Broadway to merely catch a glimpse of Emerson Palmieri and Michy Batshuayi drive into the underground car park?
Seems unlikely, don’t you think?
Yet here is the mayor of London talking about it being “human nature” for people to turn up and buy T-shirts and scarves that they can purchase online seven days a week.
Club shops have been shut for weeks and would simply not open on matchdays to ensure such gatherings do not happen.
In Liverpool there are separate concerns over title celebrations in a city where neither top-flight club has been crowned champions of England for 30 years but the local police force say that they have no concerns about games being held at Anfield or Goodison Park.
Will Liverpool fans’ potential street celebrations be changed by them sealing the title on Merseyside or on a neutral ground?
The Premier League, meanwhile, say that their “ambition is to complete all of our remaining fixtures this season home and away, where possible” but they “are prepared for all outcomes and have a neutral venue contingency.”
Should the latter happen it will be a sad reflection on what the authorities think of football fans in 2020 in a week when it was the country’s elite who were defending their flouting of the lockdown rules and getting away with it.
Football fans in Khan’s city deserve far more than cheap misconceptions that belong to a different era.