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Prem plot to end season in behind-closed-doors Midlands ‘quarantine camp’ from NEXT MONTH despite coronavirus lockdown

IT started as an off-the-cuff idea.

But now the Premier League season being finished in a Midlands-based football ghetto behind closed doors could become reality.

Clubs have warmed to the idea of finishing the Prem season behind closed doors in safe Midlands venues

Playing all remaining 92 matches at three or four venues, with players “quarantined” in safe camps, was initially seen as outlandish.

But it is gaining traction as top-flight clubs face up to the £760million cost of not completing the campaign.

While most teams agree they should try to play out the season, there is division over the best way.

Friday’s scheduled “shareholder” teleconference of the 20 clubs will be a battle.

For every Prem team who believes playing again next month is feasible,  more will argue that it cannot be  contemplated.

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Some clubs fear that even a restart in June will be impossible amid a rising number of virus deaths.

And SunSport can confirm proposals that will be floated in the virtual boardroom.

They range from the  possible to the unlikely — a plan to send all 20 clubs to play in a quarantined cocoon in Qatar, more than 3,000 miles away from the nearest Prem ground.

But with all options “on the table”, nothing will be ruled out.

Finding a “safe” environment to play games and  fulfil the league’s contractual obligations to  broadcasters, both domestic and overseas, is gathering steam.

A month ago, one senior club chief suggested taking the Prem wholesale to the USA, using 10 cities across the States and, over a month, finishing the season.

Now, with the  US death toll steadily rising, the idea would be regarded as a  complete non-starter.

But it was a signal of just where clubs might be  prepared to go.

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Recently there have been discussions about the Gulf option.

Safe — at least, safer than the UK — and secure. A made-for-TV experience in the desert, ring-fencing that at-risk  income.

Yet all the   difficulties —  logistically, ethically and commercially — are vast.

Which is why the domestic plan is gaining support.

Some championed the idea of playing the matches at one central venue, with St George’s Park and its top- quality pitches mooted.

Yet that would mean extra expense in fitting out the pitches for VAR requirements — which is seen as necessary to ensure the Prem finishes under the same on-field  conditions as when it began.

 

Instead, backing is growing for using existing grounds in the Midlands, although some clubs insist they still await substantive proposals.

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That plan foresees all remaining matches — Arsenal’s ‘trip’ to Manchester City and Aston Villa’s clash with Sheffield United — plus the other nine rounds being screened live on TV.

The Premier League and TV companies are now locked in a  survival embrace, with clubs needing the broadcast revenues as much as the companies require live football to retain subscribers.

But while losing in-stadium atmospheres would be a negative, that soon pales into insignificance compared to the cost of not finishing the season.

And as SunSport revealed, the Government sees the return of football as critical in improving the nation’s mood as we move out of the coronavirus crisis.

Choosing the Midlands — theoretically Villa Park, Molineux and the King Power  which are already set up for VAR — would be “neutral” territory for the vast majority of fans.

Concerns that vast throngs of Liverpool fans would gather outside Anfield if  skipper Jordan Henderson and Co  were 90 minutes away from  the title inside were genuine.

All matches would need a platform, so staging three a day  fits the calendar. There would also need to be minimal staffing levels, including medics.

And the Government must  give it the green light.

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Overseas markets might suffer, especially  Asia, meaning Prem chiefs working overtime to schedule games involving the most popular teams for the earliest slots.

There are other issues, including player accommodation, although a Midlands hub would mean average bus journeys of less than two hours to most venues for the majority of clubs.

And to ensure the integrity of the competition, simultaneous kick-offs of teams in direct competition might also be required on the final weekend.

But the Premier League needs completion. So making everybody suffer equally might just be the fairest way that can be devised.

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