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Gary Neville: Footballers must get their heads around the idea of playing behind closed doors

Written by on 27/04/2020

Gary Neville has warned footballers to “get their heads around” the idea of playing behind closed doors, warning that football is unlikely to return to action with fans inside stadiums for many months.

Fresh reports surfaced on Monday that plans to resume sport are gathering pace. According to The Times, ‘Project Restart’ has been devised in order to help lift the mood of the nation and football could played as early as June 8 at “approved, neutral venues”.

But with fans all but certain to be barred from attending, football’s look and feel will be very different after its resumption.

“It’s going to be strange,” Neville said on The Football Show. “It’s an awful experience when you are used to playing in front of big crowds. The Premier League lives off its stadium experience, the adrenaline gets pumping for the players and the fans get behind it.

“But we are going to be playing behind closed doors for months and months – probably into next year. We have to get our heads around that.

“That’s something we can’t get away from, the behind closed doors element. There is no way fans are going to be in stadiums in the next three, four, five, six months, in my opinion. I don’t think players have any choice but to get their heads around it.

“It will feel very strange, from a broadcasting, playing and watching point of view. We’ve all watched matches that have been behind closed doors, they’re not great, but I think at this moment in time they’d be expected in the circumstances we are in.”

The impact on players of playing top-flight football inside empty stadiums was also considered by Jamie Redknapp on The Football Show.

“Players are going to find playing again really difficult because there has been so much negativity. Families are going to be scared. The message to the players is going to be careful and you don’t want to go out on a football pitch feeling that way.

“Every piece of the jigsaw has to come together. Everybody is missing live sport. But it has to be done in the right environment and it has to be safe.

“It’s going to be weird for people, and players even, because you’ve not had that close contact for some time. Going into tackles, being in close quarters for people, is going to be unusual for people.”

Could some play better with no fans?

Redknapp also believes some players could thrive from having no pressure from fans in a stadium, and some clubs as a whole may also benefit…

“What you will find is a lot of players might enjoy the feeling of not having fans. Some players – we call them five-a-side players – who are brilliant in training Monday to Friday, but as soon as they get in front of a crowd it stifles them, they might give the ball away more.

“Some players might like a bit of freedom, a release, and even some clubs to an extent, where things aren’t going well, where 35,000 people screaming at them puts them under pressure.

“It might help some players, bizarrely. It’s going to be very interesting to see how that impacts some players.”

Analysis: How many people are needed for a football match?

Sky Sports’ Gerard Brand:

‘The answer, as you’d expect, varies.

‘Some reports suggest a Premier League game needs anything between 250 and 500 personnel present, whereas lower down in the Football League there has been suggestions that anything between 100 and 180 are needed in a stadium.

‘As well as around 60-70 staff on the playing and officiating side, matchday and safety staff take up a large chunk, as well as at least 70 broadcast media for live televised games, 40 for non-live games, plus written press if deemed essential.

‘In Germany, detailed guidelines have been published claiming a maximum of 322 people are needed in and around stadiums for a football match to go ahead.’

We look at the numbers involved here

(c) Sky Sports 2020: Gary Neville: Footballers must get their heads around the idea of playing behind closed doors