Manchester City could still be allowed to host Newcastle United at their Etihad Stadium home, despite a concern that the game may be forced to a neutral venue because of the possibility of a publicity stunt or protest surrounding the Magpies’ Saudi Arabia-backed takeover.
The match between City and Newcastle was one of six fixtures last week recommended as potentially needing to be played at a neutral venue while the majority of games go ahead at home and away grounds.
Supporters were immediately puzzled as to why the game would be classed in the same risk category as the Merseyside derby between Everton and Liverpool or the game in which Liverpool could win the Premier League title.
The National Police Chief’s Council and Greater Manchester Police would not give a reason for why Newcastle’s trip to the Etihad has been flagged up as a potential safety issue during the coronavirus crisis.
But Telegraph Sport understands that one of the reasons was a concern over the possibility of the game being used for a small number of Newcastle fans to celebrate the club’s anticipated new-found wealth outside the Etihad Stadium or the threat of a political protest over the Saudi Arabia-backed takeover.
City are owned by the Abu Dhabi Group, which has already seen the fixture jokingly billed as the ‘Middle East derby’, and Saudi Arabia’s influence in the bid to take control at Newcastle has already caused plenty of debate and controversy.
One source told Telegraph Sport that a suggestion had been made online regarding a possible stunt that could involve a reference to the old Harry Enfield sketch in which a character boasts about being ‘considerably richer than you’.
But Newcastle have not been given a reason for why the game has been initially recommended to be played at a neutral venue and neither the NPCC, whose football lead DCC Mark Roberts is leading the policing response to ‘Project Restart’, nor GMP, who will ultimately decide where City’s games can be played, would comment on the threat of a stunt or protest.
Assistant Chief Constable Nick Bailey said: “Due to GMP having two Premier League clubs within our force area, we were asked to assess the risks posed in the remaining home fixtures for both Manchester City and Manchester United in the environment of Covid-19, before offering our findings to the wider national discussion with the NPCC, the Government and the Premier League.
“Whilst all games are routinely risk-assessed in advance – with the health and safety of all those involved being the main priority – our considerations in the current climate present a different dimension and we have to ensure that government regulations and guidelines will be adhered to.
“We identified three games in our force area that present factors which need further consideration, and GMP is working with both clubs and the relevant Safety Advisory Groups (SAG) to assess if we can safely facilitate the playing of these matches at their intended locations.
“A decision will be made by the SAGs in due course and we will support whichever outcome is decided.”
There were no London fixtures included in the initial six games recommended for neutral venues, but the Metropolitan Police have not ruled out the possibility of needing to move a game.
Tottenham are scheduled to play two home London derbies against Arsenal and West Ham United, while Chelsea are due to travel to West Ham.
A Met Police statement said: “The MPS have been in regular contact with the NPCC football lead DCC Mark Roberts who is coordinating the policing response to the restart of any football matches across the UK.
“Whilst agreement has been reached as to when the season may recommence, the plans for this to happen are still being finalised. We remain in contact with all the relevant bodies and will make plans as necessary when we receive a final proposed schedule for games.”