England riots threaten to ruin Premier League kick-off
The start of the Premier League season is under threat after further rioting in Manchester and the West Midlands last night undermined an earlier claim by the league authorities that no games outside London were under threat from public disorder.
The Premier League, which is due to begin with the first round of fixtures on Saturday, said, in a joint statement with the Football League at 6.30pm that there was "no reason to think any matches outside of London will be affected". However, as disturbances grew in Manchester, Salford and West Bromwich last night it raised the question whether police resources would be able to cope with the weekend fixture programme.
Last night the Premier League said that it was waiting for clubs to liaise with their respective police forces before making any decision. In all matters of public safety, the clubs defer to their local police forces. The Premier League and Football League want a decision by the end of tomorrow at the latest on whether games will go ahead.
These latest developments followed the Football Association taking the unprecedented step of cancelling the friendly scheduled for tonight against the Netherlands at Wembley after Monday night's riots in London. The FA did so after consultation with the Metropolitan police, Government officials and Brent Council, which could not grant the FA a safety certificate for the game.
The Premier League clubs in London who are playing home fixtures on Saturday – Tottenham Hotspur, Fulham and Queen's Park Rangers – were initially thought to be the most at risk. There was trouble in the centre of West Bromwich last night; West Bromwich Albion host Manchester United on Sunday. Greater Manchester police, who were involved in city centre clashes with mobs, will also have to make a decision on Manchester City's home game against Swansea City on Monday.
All decisions will be based primarily on police resources. Although the FA could not give precise numbers on the amount of police that would have been required at Wembley tonight, the number is estimated around 400. More than 16,000 were deployed in London alone last night.
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 & Redbridge. They will also seek police advice before deciding whether to go ahead with their 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 that 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 they took advice from the Met 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 stadium.
Bernstein said: "It wasn't the targeting of the game [by rioters that was the chief concern]. It was the question of resources, both of the police and the other emergency services, question of transportation, certain concerns about protection of players from both sides, travelling in coaches and so on, so there were a lot of issues.
"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 actual 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."