Clubs should practise celebrating goals safely in training to “get the hang of it”, the Premier League chief executive Richard Masters has said.
Top-flight players have faced renewed criticism this week for hugging and kissing as they celebrate goals, in breach of Premier League protocols designed to make the league Covid-secure.
Julian Knight, the Conservative MP who chairs the digital, culture, media and sport committee, called their antics “brainless”, while another committee member, the Labour MP Clive Efford, described them as an “insult to the NHS”.
In response, Frank Lampard said he would consider encouraging his Chelsea players to avoid celebrating in training, with Masters backing the idea on Friday. “I think if every club does that, then they will get the hang of it,” Masters said.
“All sport is played in the moment, with emotion, if we set ourselves the target of perfection, we will fall short,” Masters added. ““All we’re asking is that players adjust to the situation. I think they understand that we’re in a fortunate position, where we’re able to play, we’re able to carry on while millions of others aren’t. You’ve got to follow the rules and also set a good example.”
Masters added that the Football Association would have ultimate jurisdiction over on-field breaches of protocol, and the Premier League, FA and EFL would work together to monitor how well the protocols are observed.
Manchester City’s players were among those who have faced criticism over goal celebrations. Their manager, Pep Guardiola, whose mother died in April after contracting coronavirus, does not think the behaviour of footballers will have any influence on the progression of the pandemic.
A lot of people are dying, unfortunately, every day and a lot of people are being infected,” Guardiola said. “We are going to do our best to follow the new rules. The scientists inform us what we have to do – but please, the situation that is happening in the UK is not due to football players.”
Guardiola’s Liverpool counterpart, Jürgen Klopp, believes people are intelligent enough to understand that just because footballers, who are tested for Covid-19 regularly, hug each other after a goal, it does not give them the licence to do the same.
“I think people are smart enough to make the difference between people who are constantly tested and not tested, it makes a massive difference,” Klopp said.
“If we thought we threatened one or two of our teammates we would not do it, it would just not happen. This is the only safe place we have out there on the pitch. Inside, nothing like this happens.”
Nuno Espírito Santo, the Wolves manager, has spoken to his players about the protocols but does not see group celebrations stopping. “It’s too emotional not to touch your teammate when he scores a goal,” Nuno said. “I don’t see it happening.”
In interviews conducted with the BBC and Sky, Masters also discussed the crowded fixture list and the potential return of fans. Masters insists there is room later in the schedule to play postponed Premier League fixtures, but may ask Uefa for permission to play games on Champions League or Europa League nights.
Masters, who was appointed in November 2019, four months before the Covid-19 outbreak in Europe, added that the Premier League is “prepared” to play out the 2020-21 seasons without fans in attendance.
“The focus now is on completing the season,” he said. “We don’t know when fans are going to be allowed back. It’s difficult to guess. Obviously we’re hugely optimistic that by the start of next season the vaccination programme will have returned this country to some sense of normality, and we can have fans back.”
Crowds of up to 2,000 fans were briefly allowed at some top-flight grounds in December before a third national lockdown came into effect. Masters has previously said a full season without fans would cost top-flight clubs a combined £700m in lost matchday revenue.
Scottish Premiership clubs win appeal over forfeits
Kilmarnock and St Mirren have successfully appealed against Covid-19 forfeits which saw opponents handed 3-0 wins after both teams could not fulfil fixtures in October.
Motherwell were awarded two default victories after their games against Killie and Saints were both called off, with Hamilton also given three points following a postponed game against St Mirren.
Both sides launched appeals and a Scottish FA tribunal has ruled that the three fixtures should be rescheduled with the clubs’ £40,000 suspended fines reduced to £20,000 each, of which £10,000 is suspended.
“The club thanks the panel for their review of the case and their determination that the sanctions handed out [were] excessive and inappropriate,” a St Mirren statement said. “The decision that the matches [will] be rearranged is a victory for common sense.”