The English Football League has directly warned Premier League clubs that it will get “very messy” if they try to prevent relegation and promotion when football resumes, and have admitted that it might not be viable for the EFL to start next season without crowds.
The idea of voiding relegation for the 2019-20 season has been discussed as a compromise to concerns over playing the remaining 92 Premier League matches at neutral venues, but the EFL are adamant that this would result in an immediate legal challenge.
Speaking on Tuesday morning to the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee, EFL chair Rick Parry also raised the prospect of the EFL not restarting a new season until fans could attend games, which is unlikely before 2021.
Asked directly about the controversial idea of voiding relegation and promotion, Parry said: “I think you can expect lawyers will get wealthy if that happens. There would be varying degrees of outrage from a number of clubs in the Championship. It would be a breach of the tripartite agreement between us, the Premier League and the FA.
“The safe expectation is that it would get very messy. Our conversations have been very straightforward – we expect three club to be promoted. The Premier League is very aware of our position on that. In all of the conversations, I think their position is they expect three clubs to be relegated. On balance I think we have to resolve this season and move on. Remove as much clutter as possible.”
Parry, though, explained that playing matches behind closed doors for any period of time would place an additional cost on some Football League clubs, whose business model depends so much more heavily on gate receipts than the Premier League.
The government has so far suggested that some social distancing will have to remain in place until at least the end of year and perhaps until there is a coronavirus vaccine. “The great unanswered question is when we will return to playing in front of crowds which, for the EFL, is absolutely critical,” said Parry. “Gate receipts are absolutely fundamental. It applies not just to this season but also applies to next season. We have to look long and hard at how we go about restarting next season or indeed whether we restart next season without crowds.
“Playing behind closed doors, for many clubs, will actually cost them to play. We are a spectator sport, we are a local sport, not an international event.” The EFL would look to stream matches online to mitigate losses but that would not make up the shortfall from having no fans in the stadium.
Parry also wants urgent clarity about whether plans to restart football this summer are serious and stressed that EFL clubs would need confidence before they resumed training. This is because many clubs have had to furlough large numbers of players and staff and so would not want to opt out of that scheme only for there to be a U-turn about whether matches could restart.
Parry also believes that July 31 would be the absolute cut-off to complete the season, particularly as there are 1,400 Football League players out of contract at the end of June. “That is a train coming down the tunnel very quickly,” he said. “I think the Premier League and government are working on a twin track approach: Start training and then take a decision on when it is safe to play. That absolutely does not work for us.
“We have to work backwards. Our end date realistically is July 31 because of player contracts. We can’t go beyond July. Players and staff have been furloughed. To expect the smaller clubs to bring players and staff back now, only to then find in a month that they can’t play, would be a complete mess.
“We need to be taking decisions within days. We need guidance on criteria for a return to play and we need that very, very quickly.” The EFL are still modelling their season to be completed across the 71 stadiums on a home and away basis rather than the neutral venue idea being put forward by the Premier League. Parry is also open to matches being played with halves that last less than 45 minutes, as was raised this morning by PFA chief executive Gordon Taylor. “I don’t think we should be ruling out any creative ideas – we may have a very compressed fixture schedule,” said Parry.