Premier League's Project Restart should ditch big grounds for EFL venues like QPR and Rotherham

Without supporters filling them, Germany’s cavernous arenas are sucking the life out of the acoustics and atmosphere created by the players and management staff


The Bundesliga is proving what we already know — that big stadiums were built for big crowds.

And without supporters filling them, Germany’s cavernous arenas are sucking the life out of the acoustics and atmosphere created by the players and management staff.

I can imagine it’s proving a turn-off for plenty of football fans who are tuning in from around the globe to see what the new normal looks like.

And I worry the Premier League will suffer similarly when it gets going behind closed doors again next month and that, if this goes on for some time, our top flight could end up losing a generation of supporters.

That’s why I’d love to see our clubs ditching their home grounds for the last 92 games of the 2019-20 season in favour of neutral venues borrowed from teams in the EFL.
The home of Championship side Queens Park Rangers(Image: Getty Images)

I can think of a dozen grounds at least that would make viewers feel closer to the action than they would at Old Trafford or Anfield, with QPR’s Loftus Road chief among them.

I played there several times in my career and again in September 2017 when I took part in the Game 4 Grenfell alongside Jose Mourinho, Alan Shearer and Les Ferdinand.

It’s a neat and tidy ground with four stands that are close to the pitch and dugouts right next to the touchline, meaning viewers would get a real feel for everything that is going on.

Without supporters in stadiums, I’m going to want to hear everything that is being said on the pitch.

I want to hear, ‘Oi, Sergio, ****ing mark him, will you?’.
A general view of the New York Stadium, home of Rotherham United football club(Image: PA)

And, ‘Harry, in here, he’s your man’ – listening to the way players talk to each other will make up for what’s being lost with no fans.

I know cardboard cutouts of supporters have been suggested by some people, and others think live Zoom pictures of people watching a particular game should be beamed into stadiums.

But that is going to make zero difference and rather than trying to get the fans closer to the action, we need to spin it on its head and get the players closer to the supporters.

At grounds such as Loftus Road, camera operators would be able to get up close and personal with players and because of the fixed-camera positions they wouldn’t all just look like dots.
Bundesliga returned to action this month without fans(Image: POOL/PA)

It’d be the same at Fulham’s Craven Cottage, Rotherham’s New York Stadium, Fleetwood’s Highbury Stadium, Wycombe’s Adams Park, Burton’s Pirelli Stadium, Blackpool’s Bloomfield Road, Shrewsbury’s New Meadow, Forest Green’s New Lawn, the Bescot Stadium in Walsall, Salford’s Moor Lane and The Den at Millwall.

We carried out interviews on the pitch after the Grenfell game when the stadium was empty as well and there was still a good feel about the place, still a good atmosphere with not many people in it.

Grounds with smaller capacities are capable of that and you can still guarantee that players would enjoy playing at all those I’ve mentioned as well.

On top of all that, playing at these grounds would take away the ‘home’ advantage argument and tick all the boxes.
An empty Old Trafford could well be a familiar sight(Image: PA)

Time to get stuck in... or call it quits

Now we have come this far with Project Restart, the Premier League and its players must go all in to get the game back on again.

There has been too much talking, too much hand-wringing and too much bloody-mindedness to get the remaining games played not to carry it all the way through.

So, finally, with the positive tests so low in the top flight, I’m fully on board.

But if numbskulls are going to keep talking rubbish about turning heads at tackles, sending less players up to defend and track corners, or stop any aspect of the game we all love, then I’ll U-turn quicker than Boris Johnson did about implementing a lockdown.

Football is at its best when it is left alone and my worry is that to allay any fears of passing on the virus, we’re going to go so far in terms of having little or no contact that it will legitimately affect the credibility of the game, making all this faff and fight to restart useless.

Play it hard or end it now, the game has been watered down enough.
There is uncertainty over the Premier League's return(Image: Action Images via Reuters)

La Liga's return

The return of La Liga on June 8 is leaving me more than a little queasy.

My mate is still locked down in a Madrid flat for the 70-something day and the thought of footballers playing is massively at odds with the situation some parts of the country still finds itself in.

I understand the argument that says the game’s return ‘will give a football-mad nation a lift’.

But there’s a time and a place for all that, and that time and place should only be when Spain is living and breathing normally again.

For now, though, it looks like there’s one rule for most people and one rule for elite footballers.
Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi pictured in training this month(Image: AFP via Getty Images)

A perfect fit for the Reds

I like the Adama Traore-to-Liverpool rumour.

Traore was poor at Aston Villa but was still a kid then. It was Tony Pulis who breathed new life into him at Middlesbrough.

The Spaniard has been a revelation at Wolves and has gone from a 20-minute impact substitute to a player who offers good delivery and frightening pace.

He could bring a real extra dimension to the champions-elect.
Wolves star Adama Traore has been linked with Liverpool(Image: Action Images via Reuters)

Hats off to Hancock...

Fair play to former They Think It’s All Over host Nick Hancock for apologising to Luke Chadwick over the merciless taunts he levelled at him in the 90s.

The then-Manchester United youngster was ribbed terribly about his looks, something that wouldn’t be tolerated on TV now but was very much part of the banter back then.

Chadwick — a Premier League winner — is not only at peace with himself post-football, but a big enough man to accept the apology from Hancock.

Now it’s over to former Fantasy Football League host David Baddiel to see if he’s got anything to say
to Jason Lee.