Planning for ‘Project Restart’ is underway with the possibility of finishing the season behind closed doors from mid-June onwards.
Updating the media on Thursday, Albion’s chief executive said, “We are talking daily as clubs and the League are coordinating various scenarios for clubs to look at.
“We’re trying to return but we will only play if the Government advises us that it is safe to do so but it’s 99.9% certain now that games will be played without fans and I can see games behind closed doors for a while unfortunately.
“For this season, our absolute priority is to play our five remaining home games at the Amex, even if it is without fans. We would be confident we could meet our health and safety guidelines to keep our players and staff safe although the [financial] cost of completing the season if we can and starting the next one behind closed doors is extremely painful.”
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Barber said the club were considering ways they could help players manage games without any fans in the ground. “We will be doing various things with the players to help them prepare psychologically,” he added. “It will take a while to adjust to that and I suspect we will be playing like that for a while unfortunately.”
Clubs have also to weigh up if there was any further delay beyond mid-June on the potential impact on next season, which must finish as scheduled in May 2021 because of the postponed European Championships taking place next summer.
“How long can we wait until it starts to impact on next season is a question we need to answer,” added Barber. “Protecting next season is very important for all the clubs. We can live with one season damaged, but not two. When I say damaged, I mean starting late and not being able to complete it.
“We’re craving clarity and certainty and as an industry we will have to make some of those big decisions over the next 2-3 weeks. I hope we have started to see the virus downturn and over a period of time we move to a new normality, no matter what that is.
“But first let’s make sure it’s safe to play and then we can work through the details.”
Barber also gave an update on the situation at the training ground where players have returned this week to do individual running sessions while respecting social distancing rules.
“The training ground is effectively a private park,” he said. “It’s on a voluntary basis at this stage for the players, who have been off in April. Those who have gone overseas will start to come back in the next few days, although if the lockdown is extended we will put the return to training back further. The health of the players has to be at the front of our thinking.”
Talks with the players about taking pay cuts or deferrals are due to resume next week.
“It is an ongoing process,” added Barber. “In April, the priority was establishing Albion As One and the players made a substantial contribution to the fund. Glenn Murray, Lewis Dunk and I will now pick up our discussions.
“The players understand the financial pain [owner] Tony Bloom is suffering. We are projecting a far greater loss than budgeted for and the players are aware of that.”
“We now need to find the formula to bring it together. They are not a homogeneous group so it’s not easy to get an agreement from 25 players on different salaries at different stages of their lives all with different financial priorities, but I am confident we will get there.”