Major development indicates when Stoke City could be back in action



Football authorities are reportedly at an advanced stage in talks with the Government about a return to action in just two months’ time.

The Mirror is claiming tonight that there is “a tentative agreement for the top flight to resume behind closed doors” following negotiations between the 20 Premier League clubs and senior Whitehall officials.

Health chiefs hope that a coronavirus peak is imminent and, as soon as it is safe, matches can then be sanctioned under strict guidelines.

The report adds: “League officials have also discussed extensive measures to keep the players in a sterile environment as much as possible, limiting contact with the wider public.

“There have also been talks with TV companies to extend the number of games screened during June, with clubs hopeful some can even be shown on terrestrial TV.

“Sky and BT have rights to show some of the remaining fixtures but not a capacity to show all, and discussions have centred on a free-to-air agreement that will allow far more to be screened.”

It is suggested that UEFA are in separate talks over a resumption of European competition, and that could now be completed in August, with next season’s league programmes across the continent resuming later than usual, possibly in September.

The EFL has been suspended indefinitely but, unlike most of non-league, there is still hope that the 2019/20 season will be completed.

Stoke City have nine games remaining, with Michael O’Neill having steered the club away from the foot of the Championship table since taking charge in November.

An EFL statement released on Friday said: “As a result of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic the EFL, Premier League, FA and Barclays FA Women’s Super League and FA Women’s Championship has today collectively agreed to postpone its football competitions until it is safe to resume.

“Football is committed in supporting the Government’s efforts in tackling the COVID-19 outbreak and the staging of football matches in this country.

“It is clearly something that simply cannot happen at this time. The thoughts of everyone associated with the EFL and its member clubs are with anyone currently affected by the coronavirus.

“The situation will be kept under constant review with matches only returning at an appropriate point and based on the latest guidance provided by the relevant Government departments and health authorities.

“The EFL also notes and appreciates the decision taken today by the Premier League in respect of the short-term financial relief it is to provide EFL Clubs through the advancement of solidarity payments, parachute payments and Academy Grants.

“These actions will have a positive impact on individual Clubs across our three divisions at a difficult and uncertain time.”

The EFL, along with the National League,  has also received advance funding of £125m from the Premier League  to help clubs cope with the financial impact of the COVID-19 outbreak.

O’Neill admitted that huge logistical complications lay ahead.

He told StokeonTrentLive last week: “I think there’s a drift towards getting the season finished by any means possible and the most realistic version of that would be to play behind closed doors.

“But I think we still have to be mindful of the risks attached to the players and the people that participate around the game in that situation.

“So there would certainly have to be a different circumstance to what we are finding now.

“For example, there’s so many auxiliary staff involved. If we were to travel to a game we are putting over 40 people on a bus in really close proximity. So there’s a lot of logistical things to be looked at.

“I know that people think that behind closed doors is just putting 11 players on the pitch and no crowd, but there’s a lot more that goes around it than that.

“For instance, you need an ambulance on site and what was to happen if a player got a bad injury and needed hospital treatment at a time when hip operations and the like have been put back?”





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