By dailymailsport for Lolwe digital
It looks likely that neutral grounds will be used to stage the remaining 92 matches in the Premier League season if a resumption is possible following the coronavirus crisis.
Though the proposal of using up to 10 neutral stadiums has caused a split among the 20 top-flight clubs – with those fighting relegation particularly worried about ceding home advantage – it appears to be the only way to get the ball rolling again.
Given that the remaining games will be played behind closed doors and will be subject to strict hygiene and health regulations to safeguard those on the pitch and in the stands, only certain grounds will tick the required boxes.
Among the considerations are grounds located away from residential areas to try and avoid the congregation of crowds, with modern facilities, large stands for social distancing and good road access. The distance teams would have to travel to reach these neutral venues would also have to be taken into consideration.
It was revealed on Monday that Wembley had joined the list of potential grounds where football could be played once it resumes. The national stadium was initially thought to be out of the running but Sportsmail understands it is now being considered as an option.
Sportsmail takes a closer look at all 20 Premier League stadiums to see which are the most likely to be utilised as ‘neutral’ territory should the season resume.
THE STADIUMS MOST LIKELY TO BE USED
THE EMIRATES STADIUM
Local area Covid-19 cases: 417 in Islington
Pros: Excellent modern facilities for players, officials and the media. Plenty of space for social distancing. Underground access for team buses. Large concourses around the exterior of the stadium which can be sealed off to prevent fans gathering.
Cons: Within a busy, highly-populated area and well connected by public transport, meaning there is a temptation for fans to gather for games. Cologne fans proved it is possible to swamp the surrounding areas when they played Arsenal in Europa League a few years ago.
TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR STADIUM
Club: Tottenham Hotspur
Local area Covid-19 cases: 549 in Haringey
Pros: The newest and most modern stadium in the Premier League. Spacious and fully equipped with everything needed to stage any game. As a result more than enough room for social distancing for anyone in attendance.
Cons: In the middle of a busy part of London and could prove difficult to seal off the area to prevent crowds assembling on match days. Mind you, nearby roads are often closed when Spurs play there anyway.
THE LONDON STADIUM
Club: West Ham United
Local area Covid-19 cases: 955 in Newham
Pros: The ideal location really as the Olympic Park (and two rivers) surround the stadium and so access could be shut off relatively easily. It’s a good half-hour walk from Stratford station if fans wanted to assemble. Spacious design around the pitch because of athletics track and large concourses underneath the stadium so social distancing would be easy. Enormous technical areas.
Cons: London Stadium has seen its fair share of security breaches with fans getting onto the pitch, while more recently there have been protests outside the stadium. But both should be manageable in these circumstances.
ST MARY’S STADIUM
Local area Covid-19 cases: 491 in Southampton
Pros: Located away from the city centre (about 15-20 minute walk), bordered by River Itchen on one side and railway lines on another. Quite a lot of fans approach from the city via a tunnel which could be sealed off. Limited road access.
Cons: Not as large as the London venues but has modern facilities and has hosted England international games in the recent past. Could only really stage games between two southern teams if travel were to be kept to a minimum.
THE AMEX STADIUM
Club: Brighton and Hove Albion
Local area Covid-19 cases: 381 in Brighton and Hove
Pros: Modern and well-equipped with very large tunnel area. Ideal location out of Brighton and surrounded by green space. Served by one railway station with majority of fans travelling by train from Brighton itself, so easy to control crowds. Limited road access.
Cons: Again, south coast location restricts the number of games that could potentially be held here.
KING POWER STADIUM
Club: Leicester City
Local area Covid-19 cases: 676 in Leicester
Pros: Slightly out of town location and not surrounded by residential areas so crowd control should be easy. Appealing Midlands location meaning the majority of Premier League clubs could play there without excessive travel. Modern facilities and has hosted England games as recently as 2018.
Cons: Not too many to speak of. Trains from London would have to be policed for fans if clubs from the capital were sent to play there.
Club: Aston Villa
Local area Covid-19 cases: 2,904 in Birmingham
Pros: Again, its Midlands location means pretty much any of the 20 teams could play there. A prestigious venue that has hosted many England internationals and FA Cup semi-finals before they moved to Wembley.
Cons: Not as much space as some of the newer stadiums although the tunnel area was redesigned in 2013. Quite close to residential areas and is well-connected with roads and public transport so keeping crowds from gathering could be tricky. A lot of Covid-19 cases recorded in the local area.
Club: Wolverhampton Wanderers
Local area Covid-19 cases: 856 in Wolverhampton
Pros: Midlands location is appealing and close to the M6 so sides from the north west could play there and not rack up too much travel time. An old stadium but one that’s been comprehensively redeveloped with modern facilities.
Cons: Quite close to the city centre and railway station so temptation for crowds to assemble is there.
Club: Manchester United
Local area Covid-19 cases: 622 in Trafford
Pros: Prestigious stadium used regularly in the past for England internationals and FA Cup semi-finals, as well as the Super League Grand Final, concerts and charity matches. Located away from the centre of Manchester and plenty of space around the stadium to seal off if necessary. Location would be suitable for the northern Premier League teams to play there.
Cons: Cramped tunnel area for such a big stadium which wouldn’t aid social distancing. Not much space around the pitch.
Club: Manchester City
Local area Covid-19 cases: 1,154 in Manchester
Pros: Set within the Etihad Campus away from residential areas which should make the stadium easier to seal off. Modern and spacious facilities, with England internationals and Rugby World Cup games staged there, plus good room around the pitch. Again would be suitable for north-west teams to play there.
Cons: Would Merseyside and other north-west teams be happy about playing in Manchester and would fans travel to follow their team, causing potential for trouble.
Club: None – national stadium is used for England games and showpiece matches.
Local area Covid-19 cases: 1,364 in Brent
Pros: Perhaps the ultimate ‘neutral’ ground in that no clubs play their home games here, although Tottenham recently took up a tenancy while their own stadium was being redeveloped so will still be more familiar with the facilities than other teams. Notoriously difficult to access save by a couple of tube stations which could be temporarily closed on matchdays. Great facilities, and the concourse could be sealed off from the public, with a railway and lots of industrial areas surrounding the ground.
Cons: Large number of coronavirus cases in Brent and as with all London stadiums there is a large local population which means the potential for large crowds attempting to gather. Horrible to access via road, so travel for teams would not be easy.
WHY THE OTHER STADIUMS ARE UNLIKELY TO BE SUITABLE
Smallest stadium in the Premier League lacks space of the other south coast options. Quite a lengthy journey even for London clubs to use let alone anyone further north.
Close to centre of town and residential areas plus less modern than most other Premier League stadia.
In the middle of a heavily-populated area and too easy to get to by public transport even if the exterior concourses could be sealed off.
Club: Crystal Palace
Again, located in the middle of a tightly-packed residential area while facilities don’t compare to some of the other options in London.
Completely surrounded by rows and rows of terraced houses meaning too many people in the vicinity. Facilities not as spacious as most other stadiums.
Has very good facilities, especially in the recently redeveloped main stand, but again is surrounded by lots of residential streets. Liverpool fans also have a habit of greeting opposition team buses outside the ground.
ST JAMES’ PARK
Club: Newcastle United
Status as the one and only north-east club in the Premier League would count against it even though St James’ Park is an international class stadium.
Club: Norwich City
An isolated geographical location that favours only Norwich and is inconvenient for everyone else. On the plus side, it does have a hotel next to it.
Club: Sheffield United
Likely to be deemed too close to the city centre and residential areas though northern and midlands sides could get to Sheffield fairly easily.
Close to Watford town centre but also next to a busy hospital. Likely to be overlooked for the larger London venues not that far away. Watford’s help for NHS staff has been exemplary during this crisis, however.