Former Liverpool player Jason McAteer says he is concerned that people will congregate at Anfield to celebrate a Reds title if the Premier League opts to return in home stadiums and not neutral venues.
The Premer League is gearing up towards a restart, with the league having been suspended since March 13 due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. There has been much debate and discussion with regards to when and how that restart should happen, with neutral venues a big talking point.
Brighton chief executive Paul Barber has outlined his opposition to the Premier League’s ‘Project Restart’ plan, stating that he believes that England should follow the German example of playing in home stadiums.
Barber went on to ask what would make neutral venues safer than playing in home grounds, but McAteer says a return to playing at stadiums like Anfield could lead to mass gatherings.
“Just before lockdown, my worry about Liverpool being so close to mathematically winning the title was that crowds would have built up outside Anfield, especially if the league had continued in empty stadiums," McAteer told Gambling.com.
“If Liverpool had won the league at Anfield with nobody inside, 30,000 people or more would have shown up outside the ground to celebrate because at the time we weren’t all aware of how bad this situation was.
“Everyone’s been waiting for this moment for 30 years, there’s been all the build-up, it was almost confirmed, everyone was on a high and nobody wanted to miss out. There would have been a lot of people out on the streets to celebrate.
“Even though we’re all more knowledgeable on the virus now, that could still happen. So one way to avoid that problem would be to stage games in neutral venues, I can get behind that.
“From a Liverpool perspective, if they were to continue their games at Anfield and win the title there, people will congregate. It would be impossible to police. From a safety point of view, we can’t risk that.”
Other precautions are being put into place, with the International Football Association Board (IFAB) approving a proposal that will temporarily allow five substitutions once football returns.
McAteer agrees that those precautions are necessary, but added that he hopes that as few changes are made as possible.
“We’ve all got opinions on how we think things should move forward but ultimately the number one priority has to be the safety of the people,” he said. “But every way we look at it there are advantages and disadvantages to be had.
"For me, the best solution is 90-minute matches in a neutral venue, even if it has to be played out in a World Cup-style velocity where everyone plays every three days or so over a five-or-six-week period. If we’re going to finish the season, that is the only way it can be done, as far as I’m concerned.”
When asked about Gordon Taylor's proposal to reduce 45-minute halves, McAteer added: “You might as well say let’s have a 5-a-side competition, 10 minutes each way, and you can have a club legend playing as well.
“You can’t change the game rules like that, it stains the integrity of the game. We are where we are, but you’ve got to play it out as close to the regulations as is safe, if you play it out at all. I can’t get on board with changing the length of the games, it’s just unfair.”