Gary Neville: Too soon to consider games behind closed doors

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Former Manchester United defender Gary Neville says it is too soon to consider playing matches behind closed doors.

Football in England is suspended until at least 30 April because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Playing games without fans is one of the suggested possible measures to allow football to resume before coronavirus restrictions are lifted.

But Neville told the BBC: “There are a lot of things to happen before we contemplate behind closed doors.”

Speaking on BBC Radio 5 Live Breakfast, the 45-year-old Sky Sports pundit added: “I said no on this about three or four weeks ago because I felt that it takes away from the essence of football.

“I also felt that EFL (English Football League) clubs and non-league clubs would suffer too much from the revenue loss and it would put them under.

“At the moment, the behind closed doors idea has got to come only after the health priority.

“Will fans turn up outside the stadium? Will fans congregate outside the stadium if their team can get promoted or get relegated, or if they can get into Europe?

“How are we going to stop that? How are the police going to man it? How are they health services going to react to incidents that happen off the back of it and do we need to put any more pressure on the services at this point in time?

“However, if those fears could be overcome somewhere down the line within this 12-week period then [behind closed doors games] could be the case.”

Neville, who made 602 appearances for Manchester United and was capped 85 times by England, has opened the two Manchester hotels he co-owns with former team-mate Ryan Giggs free of charge to health workers to help during the coronavirus crisis.

All games in England’s Premier League, EFL, Women’s Super League and Women’s Championship, and all fixtures in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, are currently postponed.

Under existing rules, the season had been scheduled to end on 1 June, but the Football Association (FA) has agreed that the campaign can be “extended indefinitely”.

A joint statement issued by the FA, Premier League and EFL expressed “a commitment to finding ways of resuming the 2019-20 season” and completing all domestic and European matches “as soon as it is safe and possible to do so”.

The European Championship’s move to next summer means there is more time to complete domestic league seasons.

Last week, West Ham United vice-chair Karren Brady said the season should be declared null and void.

FA chairman Greg Clarke also expressed his concern that it might prove impossible for the campaign to be concluded.

However, Brighton chief executive Paul Barber told the BBC it would be “unjust” if runaway leaders Liverpool were denied the title, and suggested increasing the league to 22 teams for 2020-21.

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