It is a year ago that the Premier League announced the postponement of the competition due to the coronavirus pandemic.
As Covid-19 swept through the UK during the early weeks of March, Premier League chief executive Richard Masters made the difficult decision to postpone play before concluding the season later in the year.
Initially, it was believed that the UK might need a two-week circuit-breaker lockdown. Very quickly, it was realised that much more was required, and Prime Minister Boris Johnson did not permit the return of elite sport until mid-June.
Three months without Premier League football, and this week, Masters revealed how the difficult decision was come to by himself and the 20 clubs in the league, including revealing the role that Arsenal, Arteta, and Venkatesham played.
“I remember it vividly,” Masters told Premier League Productions when asked about the build-up to the first Premier League Shareholders’ meeting to discuss postponement.
“The second week in March, I was at the Leicester-Villa game, the last match before the break. I remember travelling back from that match, feeling that we were under criticism, that we were under scrutiny for continuing to play football.
“That night, we had postponed the Arsenal-Man City game because the Arsenal squad had been exposed to the Olympiakos owner’s positive Covid-19 test, and the following day, I spent most of the time on the phone with the clubs, talking about whether we should continue.
“My view was that we should, and we seemed to have a consensus that it was the right thing to do. At about 10 o’clock that night, we put out the statement saying we were going to carry on, and within half an hour, I’d had a call from two clubs, Vinai Venkatesham at Arsenal and Bruce Buck at Chelsea, telling me that Mikel Arteta and Callum Hudson-Odoi had tested positive.
“Those were the first positive Covid tests in the Premier League cohort that we knew about, and that changed everything.”
Of course, Arsenal played on the first night of Premier League action, travelling to Man City in the formerly postponed match.
Under Arteta’s tutelage, the Gunners proceeded to win the FA Cup in the Covid-impacted 2019/20 season and, bar a brief period in the autumn, have played in front of an empty Emirates stadium ever since.
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On the return of fans, Masters said he hoped that stadiums could be full next season. “From the beginning of next season onwards, our goal is to have full stadia and obviously the Government’s roadmap offers us that opportunity,” he added.
“There’s a lot of water to pass under the bridge before that can happen but that’s our ultimate goal. The return of full vibrant Premier League stadia and a return to the normal Premier League.”