THE English Premier League will ask clubs to make a decision on whether to go ahead with the weekend’s fixtures - specifically the three games in London - after the England v Netherlands friendly scheduled for tonight at Wembley was abandoned in light of the rioting.
The clubs in London who are playing home fixtures on Saturday - Tottenham, Fulham and Queen’s Park Rangers - will take advice from the Metropolitan Police who will have the final say. If there are further disturbances overnight then the Premier League wants clubs to come to a decision as soon as possible, and by tomorrow evening at the latest.
The decision is based primarily on police resources. The Metropolitan Police advised last night that all major events that required police numbers should be postponed so that the force could concentrate on dealing with the rioters. Although the Football Association could not give precise numbers on the amount of police that would have been required at Wembley tonight, the number is estimated at around 400.
The London games are not the only fixtures being played in a city where there have been disturbances - Liverpool are also playing at home on Saturday - but given the scale of the rioting in the capital they are the only games which face being called off. The FA acted swiftly yesterday, deciding by 9am that, in consultation with the police, the government and Brent Council, the friendly against the Netherlands could not go ahead.
In the Football League there are five London clubs playing at home over the weekend in the three divisions - Crystal Palace, Millwall, Leyton Orient, Barnet and Dagenham and Redbridge. It will also seek police advice before deciding whether to go ahead with its fixtures depending on the situation over the next few days.
After the FA cancelled tonight’s game, the entire England squad, as well as Fabio Capello, accompanied FA chairman David Bernstein to a press conference at their hotel in Hertfordshire. The decision to come en masse was made by John Terry and Rio Ferdinand. Having watched the footage of the previous night’s riots at breakfast together, many of the players told the FA that they expected the match to be called off.
The players thought it would be unwise for them to speak individually about the riots with the situation changing all the time, but a statement was read on their behalf in which they appealed “for calm and an end to the disorder that has been going on”. The players’ statement said: “We’ve all seen the terrible pictures on the television and the most important thing is the safety of the fans and the general public.”
The FA said that it took advice from the police who said they could not guarantee the safety of the players or the fans and, in any event, would not have obtained the safety licence from Brent Council which is a legal necessity for any game to take place at Wembley.
Bernstein said: “It wasn’t the targeting of the game [by rioters that was the chief concern]. It was the question of resource, both of the police and the other emergency services, of transportation, certain concerns about protection of players from both sides, travelling in coaches and so on.
“At the end of the day we were not in a position to be given the licence we needed to open the stadium for this match. We had no choice. But we are in total sympathy and agreement with the police, the government, and Brent Council.”
Bernstein said that the decision was “not driven by money”. He said: “There are much more important considerations here. The costs involved are not great. There is a loss of income but we are hoping and believe this fixture will be rearranged, hopefully next year.”
Asked about whether the Dutch FA (KNVB) chief executive Bert van Oostveen would ask for compensation for the game, Bernstein said that he thought that was unlikely. He said: “I spoke to the president of the Dutch FA [yesterday morning] and he was greatly understanding and very sympathetic to our situation.” The Dutch were told the match was cancelled before they boarded their flight from Amsterdam.
The Minister for Sport, Hugh Robertson, said that the FA had made the right choice. He said: “They had received very clear advice from the Met police that against the backdrop of what was happening last night they couldn’t deploy the number of officers required to police a football game which is far greater than any other sports event. You also have the immediacy of this and it would clearly look bad if you are in a situation where businesses are being pillaged at the same time.”
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