Villa join Premier League strugglers fighting neutral venue plan

Kieran CANNING
AFP

London (AFP) - Aston Villa became the latest Premier League club threatened by relegation to reject proposals to restart the season behind closed doors at neutral venues on Wednesday.

Villa's chief executive Christian Purslow said the plan would increase the risk of an economic "catastrophe" for his club should they fall out of the lucrative English top-flight.

Brighton chief executive Paul Barber also admitted to "self-interest" in objecting to the proposals, while West Ham vice-chairman Karen Brady has claimed "no one wants" to play at neutral sites.

Premier League chiefs believe they will only be given the green light from government to resume at a limited number of venues as it would reduce the strain on essential services and discourage gatherings of supporters near stadiums.

But clubs at risk of relegation argue that the integrity of the competition would be compromised by the neutral-venue plan.

One controversial idea being floated by those at risk at the bottom of the table is to scrap relegation for this season even if matches can restart.

Villa are second bottom, two points from safety, but with a game in hand on fourth-bottom Watford.

"At the bottom end of the table there's a much smaller revenue base, but the risk of relegation is probably a £200 million ($247 million) catastrophe for any club that mathematically could still go down," Purslow told TalkSport.

"We're a club that prides itself on home form. Two-thirds of our wins this season have come at home.

"We've got six home games left to play and I think any Villa fan would agree that giving up that advantage is a massive decision for somebody running Aston Villa and I certainly wouldn't agree to that unless those circumstances are right."

Villa could still be relegated even if no more matches took place should the Premier League choose to use the points-per-game model used by France's Ligue 1.

Lyon have threatened legal action after missing out on a European place and the Premier League is keen to avoid a similar fallout, with the financial stakes even higher in England.

- Legal risk -

The Premier League is desperate not to lose out on an estimated £762 million ($941 million) of television revenue and broadcasters are not believed to be keen on removing the jeopardy of relegation from the remaining matches.

English Football League chairman Rick Parry warned on Tuesday that "lawyers are going to get wealthy" if the Premier League tried to block promotion from the Championship.

Premier League clubs are set to meet again on Monday in the hope of agreeing a consensus on the protocols for a return to training and eventually matches.

That meeting will take place a day after British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is due to set out his plans to ease a nationwide lockdown.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday gave the Bundesliga the go-ahead to resume from mid-May behind closed doors.

However, there remains unease at the prospect of players being rushed back into contact sport while the rest of the country is being encouraged to continue social-distancing measures.

A number of Premier League club doctors have reportedly raised a range of concerns, including over their liability and insurance if players catch the virus.

"I'd respect them more if they said 'We accept the increase in health risk but it's one we are willing to take'," said former Manchester United captain Gary Neville on the Premier League's stance.

"They won't as they are frightened to death."

What to Read Next