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Millwall chief warns of ‘dark cloud looming’ if game goes behind closed doors

Millwall chief executive Steve Kavanagh has warned a return to football played behind closed doors would be “financial Armageddon” for Championship clubs after further stringent coronavirus regulations were announced by the Welsh and Scottish Governments on Tuesday.

All sporting events in Wales will be held without crowds from Boxing Day due to the surge in Covid-19 cases, while First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said a maximum of 500 spectators can attend sporting fixtures in Scotland from December 26.

Sky Bet Championship clubs Swansea and Cardiff have been immediately affected by the development. Only on Monday the EFL confirmed its intention to continue with its programme of games, although chief executive Trevor Birch admitted the governing body would “be prepared to respond accordingly” while monitoring coronavirus cases at its clubs.

Kavanagh, whose own side Millwall have experienced a recent outbreak of Covid-19, told the PA news agency: “The bigger concern to me than getting the games on is the financial implications of going behind closed doors or even with reduced crowds.

“That is a dark cloud that is looming for football. We saw in the Championship last year all we got were loans and that feels like an £8million millstone that has been hung around our necks at the moment.

“We have no financial support as other industries – even League One and Two got grants and some of those clubs managed to make profits during that period. You then have the Championship that is on its knees and the Premier League, who have spent £1billion in the transfer market.

“I worry about going behind closed doors and I even worry about even socially-distanced crowds, because the financial consequences on a league that is already known to be a financial basket case could be really quite dramatic.”

The majority of last season was played behind closed doors, while the final months of the 2019-20 campaign also had to be completed without fans after the coronavirus pandemic brought the season to a temporary halt.

Lions chief executive Kavanagh conceded operating at reduced crowds would pose logistical and financial challenges for clubs in England but laid bare the bleak outlook for Championship teams if they were to receive no financial help from the Government.

“It is not as easy as having socially-distanced reduced crowds, it is not that easy, but that doesn’t mean we should go to no crowds because that is financial Armageddon,” Kavanagh said.

“Please don’t leave it to the Premier League to make a decision over whether the Championship are or aren’t a deserving case. It is a complex argument and someone has to make a decision and help.

“If they don’t, we risk our clubs, which are community assets, being financially stricken for the long term, so it endangers them or worse we risk our clubs going into administration and out of business. I am not saying that lightly or as a threat but people have to listen.

“We have got through to where we are out of the goodness of the owners’ hearts, all of them have been brilliant, but you can’t keep relying on these people to bail out community assets. They need help in doing so if we get into that situation, but let’s hope we don’t.”

The Premier League joined the EFL on Monday in announcing it would not implement an impromptu break in the season despite rising Covid-19 cases.

A collective decision was reached after a shareholders’ meeting between all 20 clubs, but Liverpool assistant Pep Lijnders has questioned why such key choices were not made by scientists and doctors.

Speaking ahead of their Carabao Cup quarter-final tie with Leicester, Lijnders said: “For me the experts are not the managers, they are the scientists and the doctors and we should follow their guidelines.

“The Premier League should ask them, not the CEOs, not the managers, because health always comes position number one above everything.”

Burton chairman Ben Robinson welcomed the EFL’s decision to continue with its scheduled matches despite his club having their own Covid-19 issues, which forced last weekend’s fixture with MK Dons to be rearranged.

Burton chairman Ben Robinson
Burton chairman Ben Robinson (Nigel French/PA)

After a number of postponement announcements on Monday, Reading, Bolton, Crawley and Portsmouth have become the latest sides to call off their Boxing Day games with Peterborough, Morecambe, Stevenage and Oxford respectively due to players testing positive for coronavirus.

But long-serving Brewers chairman Robinson told PA: “This problem could still be with us for some time and we have to learn to live with it, learn to deal with it how we see best and having a break isn’t going to be the solution.

“I think we have to accept this will happen. People will get Covid, have to isolate and we need to try and continue our lives with as much normality as possible.”

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