Could Scottish football be without fans until 2021 - leaked WhatsApp message paints grim picture for EFL

The English Football League is expected to be played behind closed doors until next year

The prospect of playing games in front of no fans is not one Scottish football clubs will want to think about, but it is something which is a reality.

Concerning news from England suggests that the English Football League will be playing fixtures in front of empty stadiums until 2021.

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A copy of a voice message reportedly sent by Bristol Rovers player Alex Rodman has been obtained by The Scotsman’s sister paper the Yorkshire Evening Post.

Stadiums could be empty when games are taking place. Picture: SNS

Rodman has been the club’s representative in discussions with the EFL, the PFA, club owners and Gary Neville who, as part-owner of League Two side Salford City Gary Neville, has been acting as a conduit between the PFA and players.

The 33-year-old revealed to team-mates the grim news that games will likely be taking place without fans until a cure is found for coronavirus, while 66,000 tests are required to finish the season.

In Scotland, games without fans would be of huge concern since gate receipts are crucial to clubs’ revenues.

The message said: “We definitely won’t be playing any games with fans – that’s come from the EFL – this year, they don’t think. We’ll be looking at January 2021 unless a cure pops up.

“They’d need 66,000 tests for us to finish the season. Given the NHS are struggling for tests and general people are struggling up to now for tests, from a PR point of view I don’t think any of the football bosses could sell footballers needing to finish a season with that many tests. Unless that changes drastically, they’re talking about us not getting the season finished and the season being decided on sporting merit.”

It is a possibility which has been backed up by the secretary-general of international players' union FIFPro, Jonas Baer-Hoffman.

He said: “In terms of fans being back inside stadiums that might likely not be possible until people are vaccinated. So it may well be that we play a full season without spectators.”

Rodman also talked about the issue of extending contracts.

Many of those on expiring deals will see them end on 30 June, while players get a severance pay in July which acts as protection if they don’t immediately find a new club.

Fifa are expected to announce advice for clubs with regards to contract.

Rodman said: “If you were playing through July and knew you would finish at the end of July, and then from the first week of August you weren’t going to be compensated by the club, would you be willing to play? They want to know roughly figures of lads, yes or no, so they can take it back to the clubs and inform them.

“A lot of clubs have said they will categorically not pay past that date. I don’t know what ours have said, but some of the club owners on the call have said they categorically will not pay that – but if a lot of the players have said they won’t play, then maybe that will force their hand.”

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has been understandably reluctant to put a date on the return of football, while concerns have been raised by Scotland’s interim chief medical officer regarding games behind closed doors.

National clinical director Jason Leitch yesterday said that the likes of tennis and golf are sports which are likely to return first but football is a “difficult challenge”.

He told Good Morning Scotland: "Some sports, which are clearly physically distanced and are maybe outdoors, will be able to do that.

"Others will be more challenging. I can't imagine snooker will be back first but you imagine something like tennis or golf might be back a little bit sooner.

"The number of people that have to go to football games, even to run them behind closed doors, is significant.

"So I think that will be a very gradual and difficult challenge for us. The public health advice will be to do it as soon as it's safe to do so and we will give them that advice and then the sports authorities will have to make that decision."

The full transcript of Rodman’s leaked recording:

“So I’ve just come off the call for the last meeting.

“Basically, I need a vote off everyone about severance pay in our contracts. You’ve heard a few of the things that have happened in it, I just need a yes or no from everyone which I’ll explain in this now.

“Basically, the government guidance on May 7th when they talk about the lockdown is going to be dictating when we come back in, what they say will be based off what the government say.

“The chief executive of the EFL said it would be very optimistic to even be playing games in June, so he doesn’t really think we’ll be playing games then. Gary Neville and one of the other club owners doesn’t even think we’ll be playing anywhere near then.

“We definitely won’t be playing any games with fans – that’s come from the EFL – this year, they don’t think. We’ll be looking at January 2021 unless a cure pops up.

“They’d need 66,000 tests for us to finish the season. Given the NHS are struggling for tests and general people are struggling up to now for tests, from a PR point of view I don’t think any of the football bosses could sell footballers needing to finish a season with that many tests. Unless that changes drastically, they’re talking about us not getting the season finished and the season being decided on sporting merit.

“So three promotions from every league. The Premiership would have another three clubs and it would filter down the pyramid. No relegations, and that would obviously have to be absorbed the season after so there’d be more relegations etc etc.

“The owners of football clubs legally have to provide a safe working environment for their employees, and if we are still being told to social distance how we can run around and tackle and what have you and everything to play football… unless we’re doing weekly tests, a lot of people on the call can’t see the season finishing.

“Who knows what will happen there. The most important thing is that they said player welfare was the priority, and one of the most important things is the contract situation.

“Legally, they can’t enforce clubs to extend our contracts so if people are out of contract on June 30, you would get your July severance pay. FIFA are going to release something advising clubs, but the general consensus from clubs is that they have told the EFL that they won’t be paying clubs extra or extending contracts because they can’t afford it.

“Whether that becomes a full-blown blanket agreement or it’s done individually, I don’t know. I’d imagine it would be one or the other – all clubs will do it, or they won’t. It won’t be done individually because some clubs won’t be able to play.

“The issue is with the severance pay, if our season was to go into July then if you were out of contract – and obviously this doesn’t apply to some lads because they’ve got a contract for next year anyway – if you are out of contract and our season ran into July and we knew our contracts wouldn’t be extended, would you be willing to play through July knowing you wouldn’t be paid severance pay for the month of August? And would you play knowing you weren’t getting another contract for next year?

“Obviously our severance pay when our contracts run out in June is for July, and it’s there to protect you in case you don’t get another club for the next season.

“If you were playing through July and knew you would finish at the end of July, and then from the first week of August you weren’t going to be compensated by the club, would you be willing to play? They want to know roughly figures of lads, yes or no, so they can take it back to the clubs and inform them.

“A lot of clubs have said they will categorically not pay past that date. I don’t know what ours have said, but some of the club owners on the call have said they categorically will not pay that – but if a lot of the players have said they won’t play, then maybe that will force their hand.”