Brighton CEO won't change his mind on neutral grounds proposals

Brighton chief Paul Barber ADAMANT he won’t vote to approve use of neutral grounds as part of Project Restart plan… but with the vote on a knife edge, who are the four clubs who could join the ‘Rebel Six’ and throw the Premier League into chaos?

  • Top flight sides are set for a crucial vote next week on playing at neutral grounds
  • Brighton have been vocal in their opposition to the plans amid relegation fears
  • CEO Paul Barber admitted said it would be unfair to play away from the Amex 
  • It is believed that the current bottom six oppose the plans under Project Restart 
  • But four more teams are also reportedly considering blocking the proposals
  • The plans must be approved by 14 teams, so a seventh vote would derail them 
  • Here’s how to help people impacted by Covid-19

Brighton CEO Paul Barber insists that the club won’t accept proposals to play out the rest of the season in neutral stadiums ahead of a key vote on the matter next week – admitting he is acting in self-interest.    

The fate of Project Restart hangs in the balance ahead of Monday’s crucial vote as top flight chiefs remain in talks with Government figures on a possible relaunch of the campaign, and there remains a sticking point in the hopes of getting the action back underway. 

Some teams are fearful that playing away from their home ground puts them at a significant disadvantage – especially for those who are teetering near the drop zone. Brighton – who are two point above the drop zone – have made no secret of their opposition to the move, saying the plans have ‘potential to have a material effect on the integrity of the competition’.

Brighton chief executive Paul Barber will not change his mind about playing in neutral grounds

The Seagulls are unwilling to play out the rest of the season away from the Amex Stadium 

The Premier League seek 14 votes in favour of changing the rule which states that all 19 home games must take place at an approved stadium, which is seen as crucial in ensuring the campaign can be completed. 

Brighton are among the bottom six teams who want to derail the move with Barber claiming that playing away from the Amex is ‘unfair’ and ‘not the right way to go’. 

Speaking to BBC Radio 5Live on Monday night, he said: ‘Neutral venues just simply changes the nature of the competition and what we would consider to be unfair and not the right way to go. That is speaking with self-interest. 

‘My job is to represent Brighton and Hove Albion and our interests are staying in the Premier League.

Barber says the proposals threaten the integrity of the competition and risk their survival

Wembley Stadium is one of the leading contenders to host games if the season is restarted

‘What we are not going to do, and what we can’t do, is to support something [neutral grounds] that diminishes those prospects [of staying in the Premier League] because that would be wrong.’  

The likes of Wembley Stadium, Villa Park and West Ham’s London Stadium have all been pitched as contenders to stage matches due to fears of matchdays near urban areas with the possibility of fans congregating outside. 

When clubs vote next week, it is believed the bottom six in the table will all veto the move, according to the Times. 

Barber believes the plans would be ‘unfair’ on the Brighton players should the season resume 

West Ham and Aston Villa are two of the bottom six clubs who will reportedly reject the move 

Only one more needs to join Norwich, Aston Villa, Bournemouth, Watford, West Ham and Brighton to halt the plans in their tracks – and it is thought there are at least four more teams who could side with the ‘Rebel Six’.

Speculation is ramping up over who those teams could be and their possible motivations for wanting to stay on home turf.

Clubs in advantageous positions near the top of the table, like Leicester and Chelsea, would potentially benefit from voting no, but there is no evidence to suggest they will do so.

West Ham’s London Stadium is another possible venue for clubs if the plans are approved

Leicester and Chelsea, managed by Brendan Rodgers, left, and Frank Lampard, right, are unlikely to vote against playing in neutral grounds

Bunley are in 10th place and could potentially decide that playing at a neutral venue away from Turf Moor would be a disadvantage, although that remains to be seen. 

A handful of teams might have little left to play for, but a small group above the bottom six aren’t clear of danger yet and will too be concerned that their future in the top flight would be put at increased risk by parting ways with home territory. 

Newcastle are on the verge of being taken over by the Saudi state – who have huge ambitions for the club. They could opt to reject the move amid fears of relegation so soon into their tenure, which would be a disaster for them. 

Newcastle could possibly join the Rebel Six amid their imminent takeover and relegation fears

Even though the Magpies are just five points clear from the ideal safety target of 40 points, there remains the risk that playing in neutral grounds could cause their form to nosedive. 

And just below them are Southampton – who have pulled off something of a miracle in hauling themselves out of the bottom three despite a woeful run of form last year and an infamous 9-0 hammering by Leicester. 

So the club’s Chinese owners, who are reported to be considering a sale, might fear the consequences of playing away from St Mary’s for the remaining nine games, especially after all the hard work manager Ralph Hasenhuttl and his players have done in getting to 34 points.

Carragher has suggested self-interest is at the heart of struggling sides opposing a restart

It comes as former Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher criticised teams near the bottom of hypocrisy, responding to reports that they would change their stance on playing in neutral grounds so long as relegation was ruled out.  

‘The bottom six clubs were being vocal about why the league shouldn’t go on, legitimate reasons, everyone was concerned about player and fan safety, taking things away from the NHS,’ he said on Sky Sports’ Football Show.

‘But what got to me is that clubs were opposed to neutral venues, as soon as relegation was taken off the table it was suddenly fine to play at neutral grounds. They lost a lot of their argument then.

‘The teams at the top find it hard to speak about wanting the season to go on as it looks insensitive. As soon as relegation was taken off the table, they were fine with it.’  

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