After 100 days and 100 nights, we are set for Premier League football on TV, and only on TV (with fake crowd noises, if you want), as the league joins many other European leagues in restarting play. There are two matches scheduled for today, to bring everyone up to 29 games played, with a full round of fixtures (including Aston Villa vs. Chelsea), Matchday 30, to follow this weekend.
So what’s changed? It certainly feels everything’s a little different now, starting with the world around us (both in healthcare terms and societal terms), but also just in terms of no fans being allowed in the stadiums. The fan experience and the atmosphere is often an oversold component of the Premier League “product” and “brand”, but it is undoubtedly a significant portion of it, and not just for match-going fans. But, if the Bundesliga are able to handle “ghost games”, surely the Premier League can as well.
Strictly speaking, the football will still be the same football, though probably without much if any home field advantage. The lack of immediate fan response in the stadium could also create different situations and different paradigms for players, and it’ll be interesting to see how motivations and pressures play out for certain individuals — some might respond better, some worse!
Logistically, there will be the now familiar and reasonable precautions taken to limit exposure and potential spread of the coronavirus.
In addition to the general hygiene protocols, semiweekly testing and, if needed, quarantining of the infected, players will be instructed to limit contact pre- and post-match, and avoid things like celebrations, handshakes, spitting, blowing noses, etc. Press conferences will be conducted virtually, and journalists in the stadiums will not be allowed outside of their “zone”. All told, about 300 people (across three different zones) will be involved in each match, and everyone outside of players, coaches, and referees — and broadcasters when speaking — will have to wear masks.
The “red zone” will comprise of the pitch, the dugout, the tunnels, and the dressing room. The “amber zone” will be the media areas and the stands, while the “green zone” will be everything else, largely outside and around the stadium. Only those who have tested clear five days prior to a match will be allowed in the red zone, while those entering the yellow zone will have to pass a health check, including a temperature scan.
The stadium will be divided into red, amber and green zones— Premier League (@premierleague) June 15, 2020
The pitch and tunnel area are part of the red zone. This will only be open to people who have had a test within the last 5 days and have a maximum capacity of 1️⃣1️⃣0️⃣ people pic.twitter.com/XDmfMwrKqE
The number of people involved sounds quite high for an 11-v-11 match, but that’s just because most of us aren’t familiar with the logistics needed to stage such events. That said, there will be no ball-boys to help retrieve the balls, which will add to the playground feel a bit more. Well, a playground with VAR.
Last but certainly not least, the players will be wearing shirts to acknowledge, pay tribute, and draw attention to the real issues affecting our world and our societies. In addition to the NHS badge on the front and a minute’s silence for the victims of COVID-19, player names on shirts will be replaced by the “Black Lives Matter” slogan. Here’s how that will look on Arsenal’s shirts, for example.