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'My officers will be put at risk': West Midlands PCC warns against return of football

By Peter Madeley | Shrewsbury | Coronavirus | Published:

“Safety has to be the one and only priority.” That is the view of West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner David Jamieson, who today warned that restarting football during the Covid-19 crisis would pose a serious risk to public safety.

Football has been on hold since March 13. Photo: AMA

He is the country’s first senior police official to speak out against what has been dubbed ‘Project Restart’, which clubs are expected to vote on this month.

It is understood that police have been liaising with the region’s clubs about the safety of their grounds during the crisis.

Mr Jamieson's comments came as John Campion, the West Mercia Police and Crime Commissioner said restarting football would require careful consideration but that he was sure police and government would be able to make “adequate plans” for when lockdown restrictions are eased.

Mr Campion said: “Football, along with most aspects of what was previously normal life will need careful management as it is reintroduced to our communities when current restrictions ease.

“I am reassured that Government is following the advice of health experts through this health emergency. I am also reassured that West Mercia Police, working with all its partners and Government will make adequate plans to support our communities as and when the lockdown eases, including the safe resumption of sporting fixtures.”

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However, Mr Jamieson said even if games were played at neutral venues there was a strong possibility that fans would travel long distances to gather in large numbers outside stadiums.

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This would result in a public health risk as social distancing rules were flouted, he added. He also said games taking place during the pandemic would stretch police resources to their limits, with officers required to be on hand even if supporters did not turn up.

Mr Jamieson said: “I’ve got significant concerns about the premature return of football matches.

“The tentative plans around neutral venues seem to me to be fraught with risk.

“I’m concerned about large groups of fans congregating outside their own grounds and neutral venues. There may be unnecessary travel caused as a result of that too. Clubs can lock the gates but fans may still congregate in large numbers outside the ground.”

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Mr Jamieson added: “For policing there is a double whammy of significant police resources being required to potentially disperse large groups outside grounds without the normal payments for policing in stadiums.

“Football is a major income stream for policing, but safety always has to be the only priority. Football will also be a big boost to the nation’s spirits but should not return until it is safe to do so. I am not convinced that the plans I have heard about so far are safe.”

The Premier League and EFL seasons have been on hold since March 13, with all games postponed until further notice.

Wolves are currently sixth in the Premier League

In the top flight Wolves have nine games left and are in the last 16 of the Europa League, while Villa, who are battling against relegation, have 10 matches to play.

Albion sit second in the Championship table, six points clear of their nearest rivals for promotion with nine games remaining.

Blues, who are eight points clear of the relegation zone, also have nine games to play, while in League One Shrewsbury are nine points clear of the relegation zone with 10 games to play.

Reports suggest the Premier League wants to restart on June 8, with games played behind closed doors at neutral venues.

Project Restart plans 'fraught with risk'

Mr Jamieson said he cannot see how matches can take place without the health of fans and police officers being endangered.

The Premier League is hoping to resume the season next month, with games to be played behind closed doors and possibly at neutral venues.

But Mr Jamieson said such plans were “fraught with risk”, warning that it could lead to large groups of supporters gathering outside stadiums.

West Midlands PCC David Jamieson

This, he said, would leave officers with the “impossible task” of enforcing social distancing measures, while also taking them away from other frontline duties.

He said: “I understand people want to see football resume, but the safety of the public and the police must come first and I can’t see how matches could take place without significant risks to fans, local people and most of all the brave police officers who protect us all.”

Premier League sides including Wolves and Villa are due to vote on the restart this month, with concerns escalating over the financial implications of a prolonged shutdown.

But Mr Jamieson said that while he understands the return of football would serve as a "big boost to the nation's spirits", bringing it back too early could have disastrous consequences.

He said: "The vast majority of grounds around the country – certainly those here in the West Midlands – are in densely populated urban areas. This is the same for major clubs in the North West like Liverpool.

"What happens if thousands of fans turn up outside a ground where a crucial game is taking place?

"How could the police enforce social distancing under those conditions? How could they keep rival groups of fans apart? Why should the safety of my officers be put at risk by looking after large groups of fans?

Concentrate

"Even if fans did not turn up, the police would have to be on hand in case they did. My officers are doing important work looking after the public, and need to be able to concentrate on that."

Club doctors and some players have also raised concerns about the return of English professional football, which has been suspended since March 13.

‘Safety must come before all plans to restart season’

“Safety has to be the one and only priority.”

That is the view of Police and Crime Commissioner David Jamieson, who today warned that restarting football during the Covid-19 crisis would pose a serious risk to public safety.

He is the country’s first senior police official to speak out against what has been dubbed ‘Project Restart’, which clubs are expected to vote on next week.

It is understood that police have been liaising with the region’s clubs about the safety of their grounds during the crisis.

West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner Mr Jamieson said even if games were played at neutral venues there was a strong possibility that fans would travel long distances to gather in large numbers outside stadiums.

This would result in a public health risk as social distancing rules were flouted, Mr Jamieson added. He also said games taking place during the pandemic would stretch police resources to their limits, with officers required to be on hand even if supporters did not turn up.

Mr Jamieson said: “I’ve got significant concerns about the premature return of football matches.

“The tentative plans around neutral venues seem to me to be fraught with risk.

“I’m concerned about large groups of fans congregating outside their own grounds and neutral venues. There may be unnecessary travel caused as a result of that too. Clubs can lock the gates but fans may still congregate in large numbers outside the ground.”

Significant

Mr Jamieson added: “For policing there is a double whammy of significant police resources being required to potentially disperse large groups outside grounds without the normal payments for policing in stadiums.

“Football is a major income stream for policing, but safety always has to be the only priority. Football will also be a big boost to the nation’s spirits but should not return until it is safe to do so. I am not convinced that the plans I have heard about so far are safe.”

John Campion, the West Mercia Police and Crime Commissioner, said restarting football would require careful consideration but that he was sure police and government would be able to make “adequate plans” for when lockdown restrictions are eased.

He said: “Football, along with most aspects of what was previously normal life will need careful management as it is reintroduced to our communities when current restrictions ease.

“I am reassured that Government is following the advice of health experts through this health emergency. I am also reassured that West Mercia Police, working with all its partners and Government will make adequate plans to support our communities as and when the lockdown eases, including the safe resumption of sporting fixtures.”

The Premier League and EFL seasons have been on hold since March 13, with all games postponed until further notice.

In the top flight, Wolves have nine games left and are in the last 16 of the Europa League, while Villa, who are battling against relegation, have 10 matches to play. Albion sit second in the Championship table, six points clear of their nearest rivals for promotion with nine games remaining. Blues, who are eight points clear of the relegation zone, also have nine games to play, while in League One Shrewsbury are nine points clear of the relegation zone with 10 games to play.

Reports suggest the Premier League wants to restart on June 8, with games played behind closed doors at neutral venues.

Peter Madeley

By Peter Madeley
@P_Madeley_Star

Political Editor for the Express & Star. Responsible for local and national political stories, opinion, comment and analysis.

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