Police warn ‘legislation’ may be only way to stop fans gathering

Manchester City’s Etihad Stadium is locked due to the English Premier League’s suspension last month. (AP pic)

LONDON: Greater Manchester’s Police (GMP) chief has warned legislation could be the only way to stop fans gathering outside stadiums if the Premier League restarts amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Premier League organisers want to resume the postponed season behind closed doors in June and are thrashing out the controversial issue of where to play the remaining 92 fixtures.

The league has reportedly lobbied the government to allow them to play at each team’s stadium rather than neutral venues.

The neutral ground plan, which was originally mooted in talks between Premier League stakeholders, has been criticised by several clubs, prompting the attempt to switch back to home and away games.

But GMP chief Ian Hopkins is not convinced matches should be staged in major football cities like Manchester during the pandemic.

“What we’re fearful of is that people will turn up either at neutral grounds or at home grounds, and some of that could be particularly problematic,” Hopkins said on Wednesday.

“We’ve all got to get to a position where we feel it can be done safely without jeopardising people’s health and that has to be the starting point for people.

“The next point then is what provisions can the clubs put in place to prevent people coming, and obviously we can use legislation where it’s applicable to stop that as well.”

Hopkins said controlling crowds is not impossible but stopping them gathering in the first place should be the priority to protect people’s health.

“I’m not saying from a policing perspective it would be impossible to police because clearly it wouldn’t,” he said.

“We police hundreds of thousands of people in normal circumstances at events right across Greater Manchester.

“But we are in very special and difficult times, and it remains a health issue so the thought of large groups of people coming together and not practising social distancing is a difficult one.”

Hopkins pin-pointed Manchester City’s home game against Premier League leaders Liverpool at the Etihad Stadium as a potential flashpoint in the bid to keep fans from gathering in large groups.

That match could even see Liverpool end a 30-year wait to win a league title.

“Liverpool coming to Manchester City I have no doubt would attract crowds whether they’re allowed in the ground or not,” Hopkins added.

“It needs very, very careful thinking through.”