That development in early May was the first time there was real confidence about a return, after “weeks of uncertainty”. Masters said there was “excitement” but also some caution ahead of Wednesday’s resumption, as he also outlined the Premier League’s considerable contingency planning in case of any second wave.
“When the whole county went into lockdown, every industry sector was wondering when some semblance of normality could be returned to,” Masters said in a press conference. “But as soon as we’d spoken to government, as soon as we’d spoken to our clubs, we put in place really what I’d describe as a skeleton plan, trying to take it step by step, trying to fill in the gaps ever since and I think the moment when we were really able to assure everyone that going back to stage-one training was safe, I think from the point onwards, it felt that we were on the right track.
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“I’m feeling very excited. It’s the culmination of a lot of hard work, a lot of consultation, with clubs, players and managers, and other organisations, particularly the government, and I think those sort of early weeks of uncertainty have been replaced step by step with a growing confidence we could get to this point.
“I think the real prize is completing the season, and obviously we have to be careful, we have to observe the new normal, the new rules that have been put in place, we’re confident the clubs, the players and the staff involved will do that and we can take confidence from the testing results, 16 out of over 8,500 tests that the new measures we put in place are providing a safe place to work, so excitement but obviously tempered with the view that we need to keep on track.”
If there is any second wave, Masters says there is a plan in place.
“Obviously we’ll be going into next season with a clearer understanding of what would happen in various eventualities so I think that is going to help,” he said.
“Everybody has learned an enormous amount over the last three months, certainly we have, and I think what we’ve learned is that you have to be nimble and responsive, and you have to have contingency plans. We know there is a prospect of a second spike and we’ll be ready, and we are anticipating that in our planning, obviously hoping we can return to a full Premier League season. There are embryonic discussions going on at government level, cross-sport this is, regarding the return of fans to sport generally. We’ll be a willing participant in all of that and would want fans back in the stadiums as soon as it’s safe and appropriate to do so.”
Masters acknowledged that a minority of matches may have to take place at neutral venues, and that it will be easy to move games if any stadium fails the safety tests.
“I think what they agree was we’ve now got a situation where the vast majority of, if not all, games will be played home and away, and we have a few outstanding,” he said.
“If a club, for whatever reason, fails to get a safety certificate we have a backup plan, and they were all prepared to take that onboard. Going back a couple of months it was a slightly different situation. We’ve been talking with the police, talking with the authorities, and have managed to come up I think with a better mix. So I can’t envisage what precise circumstances there might be, but I think clubs are comfortable with whatever outcome.”