Football in Covid-19 carnage as Whitehall and FA send warning to clubs over protocol breaches

The football season was on the brink of collapse on Monday night as the game braced itself for a stern warning from the Government following another weekend of Covid breaches.

With Aston Villa‘s Premier League match at home to Tottenham postponed — and Fulham angry at being asked to play Spurs instead — it can be revealed that the FA will write to remind clubs to stay within strict protocols after the FA Cup third round was marred by several incidents of rule-breaking.

The Government are coming under pressure to address football’s continuation after Labour said it was ‘increasingly difficult’ to make a case for elite sport to be exempt from lockdown rules.

English football nearly collapsed on Monday as the Government prepares to warn sport

Aston Villa's tie with Tottenham was scrapped due to Covid with Fulham now brought in to play

Aston Villa’s tie with Tottenham was scrapped due to Covid with Fulham now brought in to play

There was significant alarm at the scenes from the FA Cup with players ignoring official guidelines with their goal and dressing-room celebrations.

Hundreds of fans of non-League Marine gathered in close proximity ahead of Sunday’s historic visit of Tottenham, though Merseyside Police insisted yesterday that ‘the vast majority’ adhered to social-distancing measures.

As it stands, the Government’s desire for elite sport to continue remains unchanged. But there is an acknowledgement that rule breaches by players are making it increasingly challenging to justify the continuation of sport.

There are concerns that more breaches could result in major public pressure for a hiatus in competition like the March shutdown — a scenario all parties are desperate to avoid. Referees, it is understood, will be asked to remind players of their responsibilities.

There is growing concern for the top-flight who announced 36 positive tests on Monday

There is growing concern for the top-flight who announced 36 positive tests on Monday

There were 36 positive tests announced in the Premier League on Monday. But football’s stakeholders expect communication from Whitehall this week to re-emphasise the importance of staying within guidelines.

Speaking to Sportsmail, Labour’s shadow sports minister Alison McGovern said: ‘Sport in this country has taken huge measures to ensure games can go ahead and players and fans kept safe. 

‘But it’s clear that with cases rising across the country, this is becoming increasingly difficult. We implore the Government to follow any advice SAGE issue.’

Scottish football below Championship level was suspended yesterday for three weeks due to the rise in cases and First Minister Nicola Sturgeon will review exemptions for elite sport after criticising Celtic’s mid-season trip to Dubai. 

Labour¿s shadow sports minister Alison McGovern says it is now 'difficult' to keep sport going

Labour’s shadow sports minister Alison McGovern says it is now ‘difficult’ to keep sport going

Scottish football has been affected too, with 13 Celtic players and their manager self-isolating

Scottish football has been affected too, with 13 Celtic players and their manager self-isolating

Defender Christopher Jullien tested positive following the trip, with 13 first-team players and manager Neil Lennon now forced to self-isolate.

With Villa’s game against Spurs postponed, Fulham have been called in to play their game against Tottenham — postponed from December — tomorrow, much to the annoyance of Scott Parker’s club. 

The Premier League approved the re-scheduling as a result of the Covid outbreak that has ripped through Villa’s squad. 

They are determined to ensure the season runs with as few delays as possible to avoid the prospect of curtailment, and clubs agreed to facilitate late fixture changes ahead of this season to ensure it could be completed.

Spurs' home clash with Aston Villa was called off due to the visitors' struggle with coronavirus

Spurs’ home clash with Aston Villa was called off due to the visitors’ struggle with coronavirus

Nevertheless, Sportsmail understands Fulham are deeply frustrated by the decision to shoehorn in a game at short notice.

Their scheduled clash against Chelsea on Friday night will now kick off at 5.30pm on Saturday. The Stamford Bridge club were reluctant to agree to the change, but have given the green light for Fulham to have an extra day’s recovery. Villa’s clash with Everton, due to be played on Saturday at 5.30pm, will now be at noon on Sunday.

Fulham beat QPR 2-0 after extra time in the FA Cup on Saturday, and sources claim Fulham boss Parker might have approached the game differently had he known they would have to face Spurs four days later. 

Fulham were made aware of the possible re-arrangement on Sunday, the day after facing QPR.

Fulham are last-minute opponents for Spurs on Wednesday - leaving Scott Parker fuming

Fulham are last-minute opponents for Spurs on Wednesday – leaving Scott Parker fuming

With Spurs in four competitions, and their Europa League campaign resuming next month, there was concern from the Premier League that they would face an unmanageable fixture backlog.

Villa’s first-team bubble — including players and staff — were re-tested over the weekend and the situation has not improved significantly from previous tests.

Sheffield United boss Chris Wilder said yesterday he would not be shocked if the Premier League had to be suspended. 

But Wolves manager Nuno Espirito Santo warned Premier League chiefs that football will never be the same again if the sport shuts down, believing it would hasten the arrival of a European Super League and push smaller clubs out of existence. 

Steve Bruce (left) and Sam Allardyce (right) have questioned whether football should continue

Steve Bruce (left) and Sam Allardyce (right) have questioned whether football should continue

Nuno insists the game has a ‘moral obligation’ to continue, though fellow bosses Steve Bruce and Sam Allardyce have questioned the wisdom of playing on.

‘I am afraid that if the decision is to stop, football as we know now would not be the same,’ said Nuno. ‘The schedule would go crazy, it would be impossible to finish the season — and think about the European Championship. So my feeling is that if we stop, everything would change and a new football would come.

‘There would probably be a Super League, other competitions, and then it would be a matter of which clubs survive. It’s a tough decision to make. 

‘Everybody has been trying hard and all of us have the moral obligation to do our best to keep going.  That doesn’t mean we are insensitive to what is happening but this spirit is required in these moments. 

Wolves boss Nuno Espirito Santo believes football will never be the same again if it stops

Wolves boss Nuno Espirito Santo believes football will never be the same again if it stops

‘We were assured that no matter what happened, we would be playing, because we only needed 14 players available to play a match. Now that is not happening and we are starting to think about stopping again.’

Premier League clubs were given until last night to sign off the new restrictions, including advice to wear masks at all times in indoor areas at the training ground, use three coaches when travelling to ensure social distancing, and limit physio treatment at training to 15 minutes. 

They have also been asked to restrict meetings indoors, and keep canteens closed for much of the week.

Meanwhile, Chelsea have closed their academy training centre because of a Covid outbreak, though first-team facilities have remained open.

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