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PREM PROBLEM Will football continue in England as a second Covid-19 lockdown beckons? Questions remain unanswered

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Stadiums have stood empty for Premier League fixtures since the return of football.. (Richard Heathcote/NMC Pool)

Stadiums have stood empty for Premier League fixtures since the return of football.. (Richard Heathcote/NMC Pool)

PA

Stadiums have stood empty for Premier League fixtures since the return of football.. (Richard Heathcote/NMC Pool)

A second national lockdown looks imminent in England, but that does not mean the Premier League is set to be halted any time soon.

Football in England and Scotland ground to a halt as the first Covid-19 lockdown came into effect back in March, with matches resuming in England in June as the Premier League season and the final round of the FA Cup were played.

Yet even if Prime Minister Boris Johnson confirms England will be placed into a lockdown that could run into December, his government are expected to give the green light for top-level sport to continue.

Yet while it is almost certain that Premier League matches will continue to be played, doubts may now surface over the sustainability of football in England's lower leagues.

THE PREMIER LEAGUE

England's top clubs have Covid-19 structures in place that have allowed matches to be played with only limited outbreaks of the virus within club bubbles.

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Liverpool's Sadio Mane was one of three Liverpool players to test positive for Covid-19

Liverpool's Sadio Mane was one of three Liverpool players to test positive for Covid-19

AFP/Getty Images

Liverpool's Sadio Mane was one of three Liverpool players to test positive for Covid-19

Manchester United, Liverpool and Chelsea have all had high profile cases of Covid-19 within their squads, but all players involved have made full recoveries and resumed playing once their period of isolation has elapsed.

The system has proved to be effective, so it is unlikely that the government would make any moves to try and halt Premier League matches.

WHAT ABOUT THE FOOTBALL LEAGUE?

This is where the problems begin to emerge.

Senior figures at Football League clubs have warned that as many as ten clubs could go into administration by the end of November unless government money is provided to prop them up and this latest lockdown move is a hammer blow to their hopes of survival.

Clubs in England's bottom two leagues (League One and League Two) rely on gate receipts to survive and with the prospect of spectators returning to games appearing to be further in the distance that at any point in this crisis, many will now question whether they can continue to play matches.

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Peterborough United's Irish owner Darragh MacAnthony wants fans to return to stadiums

Peterborough United's Irish owner Darragh MacAnthony wants fans to return to stadiums

Photograph: Jed Leicester/Action

Peterborough United's Irish owner Darragh MacAnthony wants fans to return to stadiums

Clubs opted not to play in a bid to limit costs at the end of last season, yet with the furlough scheme ending in England at the end of October, relying on government-backed financial help may not be an option this time.

It is a crisis that looks certain to ensure several English clubs could run into huge financial trouble.

THE RETURN OF FANS

Football League clubs started this season on the understanding that spectators would be permitted to return with social-distancing guidelines in place in October, but that plan was shelved as Covid-19 cases saw a fresh surge.

With the 24,405 new cases reported in the UK on Friday and a further 274 deaths (taking the total to a harrowing 58,925), fans will not be allowed to attend matches any time soon.

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Empty grounds have compounded the financial impact of the coronavirus crisis (Tess Derry/PA)

Empty grounds have compounded the financial impact of the coronavirus crisis (Tess Derry/PA)

PA

Empty grounds have compounded the financial impact of the coronavirus crisis (Tess Derry/PA)

It looks increasingly likely that no spectators will return this side of Christmas and it may even be that empty stadiums will be the norm until the start of next season.

That would be a huge problem for numerous lower league clubs, while clubs like Manchester United, Arsenal and Tottenham are losing up to £5m in revenue in each home game.

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?

Pressure will be applied on Premier League clubs to bail out lower league sides with financial hand-outs, but there is no guarantee they will be willing to hand over large sums of cash at a time when they are already creaking financially.

Even though England's top-flight clubs spent over £1billion in the last transfer window, there is a real concern that many will run into financial difficulty so long as spectators are not allowed to attend matches.

The experiment of charging £14.99 for pay-per-view matches has backfired and it may be that clubs will be looking to cut costs rather than offer hand-outs of cash as it seems as if this entire season could be played in empty stadiums.

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