Hard-hit English clubs from outside the Premier League may want to look again at tie-ups with top-flight sides after the coronavirus period, a former Football Association chief has suggested.

Dan Ashworth served as FA technical director until departing after the 2018 World Cup to join Brighton and Hove Albion, where he holds the same job title.

He was involved in talks while at the national governing body that took in discussions about B teams and feeder clubs, but in 2017 said he could not see the shape of the English game "changing anytime soon".

The English Football League (EFL) also took a strong stance against the notion of B teams, at a time when it was suggested an extra tier could be added in a restructuring plan.

However, clubs are facing up to unprecedented hardship because of the COVID-19 crisis, with football suspended and little hope that spectators will be allowed inside stadiums until 2021 at the earliest.

It could mean many clubs are left with crippling debts and others go out of existence, potentially leaving holes to fill in the EFL's competitions, which may create space for B teams of Premier League clubs.

Those teams from the Championship, League One and League Two that survive might welcome the prospect of being propped up by elite clubs, who are fighting to protect their huge broadcast revenue.

Ashworth, quoted widely in the UK media, said: "The sort of things we explored a number of years ago, during my time at the FA, were strategic loan clubs, B teams or partner clubs.

"Maybe, just maybe, things like that come back on the table.

"If there is a shortage of money and everybody has to cut their cloth accordingly then maybe there're ways we can share resources and help one another.

"Ground sharing is one that has been looked at before, artificial surfaces that can be used for concerts and training. You could have women's and men's games in the same venue."

Discussions relating to the return of Premier League football have been held in "constructive meetings", according to the United Kingdom government's foreign secretary Dominic Raab.

The Premier League has been on hiatus for almost two months due to the coronavirus pandemic, which has impacted much of the world and brought professional sport to a standstill.

'Project Restart', as it has been dubbed, is being planned by the Premier League, as decision-makers look to determine the best way to resume matches.

According to reports, numerous ideas are being considered, such as playing the remaining matches behind closed doors at neutral venues, while Professional Footballers' Association chief Gordon Taylor has suggested matches could even be shortened.

Raab confirmed the government has already held talks with sporting bodies with regards to allowing athletes and players to resume training, and while he suggested discussions are going well, he stressed safety is the priority.

"I think it would lift the spirit of the nation," Raab said in the government's daily briefing on Tuesday.

"The government has had constructive meetings with sports bodies over plans for athletes to resume training when it's safe to do so.

"The culture secretary has also been working on a plan to get sports played behind closed doors when we move to the second phase.

"We can only do it when the medical and scientific advice is that it can be done safely and sustainably, but that is certainly something under active consideration."

The UK has had almost 195,000 confirmed cases of the virus, while the death toll has reached 29,427, the largest total in Europe.

Cancelling relegation from the Premier League this season would outrage Championship clubs, according to Rick Parry, the EFL chairman.

Parry added that the 2019-20 campaign needs to be finished by July 31 for sides outside the top flight.

Former Liverpool and Premier League chief executive Parry was giving evidence to the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport committee on the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

Professional football in England has been suspended since March, with Parry revealing that clubs below the top flight are facing a £200million shortfall by the end of September as a result.

"Our end date realistically is 31 July because of the situation with contracts," said Parry of when the season needs to come to a close. "We can't go beyond July.

"Players and staff have been furloughed and to expect clubs to bring them back in now, to forgo the furlough, only to then find in a month they can't play would be a complete mess.

"We need within days to be taking decisions.

"We have a great deal of uncertainty around next season and the undetermined matter of when we'll be able to return with crowds, which for the EFL is absolutely critical.

"We're much more dependent upon the revenue and atmosphere generated by crowds than the Premier League."

Some Premier League clubs are reportedly uneasy about the competitive disadvantage of playing behind closed doors at neutral venues as they battle relegation, believing the drop into the Championship should be taken off the table.

However, Parry said: "The Premier League is aware of our position on that. There would be a degree of outrage from a number of clubs in the Championship and it would be a breach of the tripartite agreement."

Parry added that "lawyers are going to get wealthy" if relegation is scrapped.

Norwich City, Aston Villa and Bournemouth were in the relegation places when the season was halted. West Ham and Watford were only outside the bottom three on goal difference, with Brighton and Hove Albion two points clear of the drop.

Gordon Taylor has revealed playing less than 45 minutes per half has been proposed ahead of the return of football in England.

There has been no professional football in England since mid-March due to the coronavirus pandemic, and players' union boss Taylor does not envisage a return until at least the middle of June.

The Premier League launched 'Project Restart' in a bid to conclude the 2019/20 campaign, with games potentially played at neutral venues in England or even overseas.

World governing body FIFA has proposed increasing the number of substitutions in an attempt to ease players' workload, with the prospect of a hectic schedule to come if the action gets under way again.

Professional Footballers' Association (PFA) chief executive Taylor says reducing the duration of matches has also been discussed.

He told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: "We don't know the future, what we do know is what propositions have been put, what ideas have been put, the possibility of having more substitutes, games possibly not being the full 45 minutes each way.

"We've talked of neutral stadiums, there's lots of things been put forward, try and wait and see what the proposals are and then have the courtesy to let the managers and coaches and players come to a considered view."

Taylor believes it would be unrealistic to expect games to take place before the middle of next month.

He added: "I wouldn't expect games to be played, if everything was positive and promising, you wouldn't be thinking of matches being played until around about the middle of June."

Manchester City striker Sergio Aguero said players are "scared" to return and Taylor stated it is their choice over whether they take to the field.

The long-serving PFA boss said: "Sergio is a top-class player and is entitled to his opinion of course.

"It's not a question of being scared, it's a question of being fully informed and for the relevant authorities to try and make sure it's as safe as it possibly can be to return, and to pick out any particular statements or choose any parts of that process is not really fair until we've looked at the whole menu."

Taylor added: "They are professional sportsmen and professional sportswomen and of course they are concerned about their own safety, they are not stupid and neither are they naive, so they have to be satisfied that it is safe to return and it is their choice."

Hopes are fading that spectators will be allowed into English football grounds before 2021 after a revelation from former Premier League club Bradford City.

Now in League Two, Bradford said they had suspended 2020-21 season-ticket sales after being told of an "ever-growing possibility" of having to play behind-closed-doors games until next year.

Bradford, who were last in the English top flight in 2001, said it was "highly likely" next season would at least begin with games played without fans due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The West Yorkshire club's decision followed their involvement in a conference call with the English Football League (EFL) on Thursday.

Bradford said in a statement: "'City For All' 2020-21 season-ticket sales have today been suspended.

"The decision has been taken as the club continues to await further information regarding a conclusion to the current campaign, with the start date for next season yet to be confirmed.

"This comes following a meeting yesterday held between the EFL and the Bantams' League Two colleagues.

"City officials have recently been informed of the ever-growing possibility of supporters being unable to attend matches until 2021.

"And it is now highly likely that next season will commence behind closed doors."

The 2019-20 season stalled in March with the arrival and spread in England of COVID-19, and reports have claimed the EFL campaign could be abandoned because of the amount of testing that would need to be conducted just to allow closed-doors games to be played.

It remains to be seen whether the Premier League and EFL have joined-up thinking on matters such as playing games without supporters next season.

Although the Premier League has huge broadcast deals, which it is eager to preserve, clubs lower down the pyramid are facing a harsh reality of losing vital matchday income, amid fears many could be forced out of business.

The EFL has pledged to have rigorous coronavirus testing in place before its leagues resume in England, and insisted the return of football must not negatively affect key workers.

Reports on Saturday suggested Premier League football may return within weeks with matches taking place behind closed doors.

The UK government is said to have begun looking at proposals for the resumption of live sport as part of a bid to boost morale during lockdown as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

The EFL said its own position regarding the return of action in the Championship, League One and League Two remains unchanged and that football will only resume when it is safe to do so.

An EFL statement read: "The position of the EFL remains unchanged in that the priority is to resume the 2019-20 season as soon as it is possible with matches only returning at an appropriate point and based on guidance from the relevant authorities. The health and well-being of the nation has to come first.

"Clearly, before any return to football can take place, suitable testing arrangements for participants must be in place and this is core to our current planning, as is ensuring there is absolutely no negative impact on the country’s front-line workers, the emergency services, league and club staff members.

"The EFL's medical advisor is working with a select group of medical professionals and sports scientists to ensure their collective expertise is utilised to address these issues. This group will consider the latest medical information and evidence from both in the UK and abroad, particularly around the viability and accessibility of the various COVID-19 tests that are currently available."

The EFL has been suspended since March 13 and the body's chairman Rick Parry said last week matches will likely take place behind closed doors with the intention to finish the 2019-20 season when it is deemed safe to do so.

Saturday's EFL statement added football can only resume successfully with a "collaborative approach with all stakeholders, including the Premier League and Football Association".

The scheduling of fixtures, promotion, relegation and the opening and closing of transfer windows are among issues the EFL said remain under discussion.

EFL chairman Rick Parry is unsure when football will return but revealed Championship, League One and League Two games are likely to be played behind closed doors when it does.

English football, like most sport around the world, is on hold amid the coronavirus pandemic.

On Thursday, the United Kingdom extended lockdown measures for a further three weeks, dealing a blow to any faint hopes of an imminent resumption of the season.

In an open letter to fans, Parry indicated supporters are unlikely to be permitted to attend games whenever they are able to take place again.

"To give you an honest assessment of the current situation; the point at which you will be able to attend games again remains unclear," Parry wrote in an open letter to supporters. 

"Please be assured, however, that we are going to welcome you back to stadiums as soon as it is safe to do so. Your contribution to the matchday experience and atmospheres created in stadia up and down the country is something we should never take for granted.

"Unfortunately, I cannot tell you today when football will resume, though whenever we do return, matches are likely to be played without crowds.

"And whilst we are unfortunately without the presence of the hundreds of thousands of supporters who pass through EFL turnstiles each week, we will endeavour to bring live football direct into your homes once it returns.

"Plans are continuing to be worked up for all games to be broadcast either via our broadcast partners, iFollow or equivalent club streaming services. We will update you on this once we know when matches will recommence."

 

The Professional Footballers' Association (PFA) claims "essential public services" would lose important revenue if players take the 30 per cent pay cut proposed by Premier League clubs.

Highly-paid stars have come under increasing public pressure to commit to a wage reduction after the coronavirus pandemic brought England's top flight to a halt until at least May.

Liverpool on Saturday joined Tottenham, Newcastle United, Norwich City and Bournemouth in placing a number of non-playing staff on furlough. The scheme sees the United Kingdom government cover 80 per cent of an individual's wages up to the value of £2,500.

Health secretary Matt Hancock called on footballers to "play their part" and Premier League clubs agreed at a meeting on Friday to approach them over a pay cut.

No agreement was reached with the PFA, which suggested it was not the right approach, mooting that services such as the National Health Service (NHS) could suffer a financial blow.

However, the players' union stated a "substantial contribution" will be made once talks have been concluded.

The PFA's statement read: "The players are mindful that as PAYE [pay as you earn] employees, the combined tax on their salaries is a significant contribution to funding essential public services - which are especially critical at this time.

"Taking a 30 per cent salary deduction will cost the Exchequer substantial sums. This would be detrimental to our NHS and other government-funded services.

"The proposed 30 per cent salary deduction over a 12-month period equates to over £500m in wage reductions and a loss in tax contributions of over £200m to the government.

"What effect does this loss of earning to the government mean for the NHS? Was this considered in the Premier League proposal and did the health secretary, Matt Hancock, factor this in when asking players to take a salary cut?

"We welcomed the opportunity to discuss this with the Premier League today and we are happy to continue talks.

"It is our priority to finalise the precise details of our commitment as soon as possible. However, to achieve a collective position for all Premier League players - of which there are many different financial and contractual circumstances from club-to-club - will take a bit more time. 

"The PFA Charity has also agreed to make a substantial contribution to a player-led initiative once the details are finalised.

"There should be no doubting the players and captains are committed to achieving this as soon as possible. They recognise their role in wider society and what they need to do, as a group, to help and support others."

The PFA also claimed the Premier League's decision to advance £125million to EFL and National League clubs and donate £20m to the NHS and other charitable causes was insufficient.

"£20m is welcome, but we believe it could be far bigger," said the statement.

"The EFL money is an advance. Importantly, it will aid cashflow in the immediate, but football needs to find a way to increase funding to the EFL and non-league clubs in the long-term.

"Many clubs require an increase in funding just to survive. We believe in our football pyramid and again stress the need for solidarity between all clubs."

The statement added that players want to ensure their financial contributions support clubs, players and staff at all levels of the football pyramid and the NHS, whose workers it called "the real heroes".

Premier League clubs have agreed to consult their players about taking 30 per cent pay cuts due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The proliferation of COVID-19 has seen the majority of global sport grind to a halt, with a meeting of Premier League shareholders on Friday acknowledging England's top flight will not get back under way at the start of May.

Tottenham, Newcastle United, Norwich City and Bournemouth have placed at least part of their non-playing staff on furlough leave at the United Kingdom government's expense.

Health secretary Matt Hancock called on Premier League footballers to "take a pay cut and play their part", with the Professional Footballers' Association (PFA) attracting criticism for a lack of action in agreeing such measures.

However, clubs will now approach their players about reducing their salaries while football is on hiatus.

A Premier League statement read: "The sporting and financial implications for Premier League clubs as well as for the FA, EFL and National League were considered at today's meeting.

"In the face of substantial and continuing losses for the 2019- 20 season since the suspension of matches began, and to protect employment throughout the professional game, Premier League clubs unanimously agreed to consult their players regarding a combination of conditional reductions and deferrals amounting to 30 per cent of total annual remuneration.

"This guidance will be kept under constant review as circumstances change. The League will be in regular contact with the PFA and the union will join a meeting which will be held tomorrow between the League, players and club representatives."

The Premier League also announced that £125million would be advanced to the EFL and National League due to the "severe difficulties clubs throughout the football pyramid are suffering at this time".

All leagues overseen by the EFL and National League have been suspended indefinitely.

An additional £20m has been committed to support the NHS, communities, families and vulnerable groups during the pandemic.

"This includes a direct financial contribution to the NHS and funds to enable clubs to refocus their efforts and develop significant outreach programmes to help communities, including those most in need. This funding will enable both immediate and longer-term support during the crisis," the statement read.

"In response to COVID-19, Premier League clubs have been supporting tens of thousands of people in their communities each and every day through targeted activity including donations to foodbanks, telephone calls to the elderly, food parcels delivered to the vulnerable and a wide range of free resources to support wellbeing and education.

"Many Premier League clubs are also working closely with their local NHS Trusts to provide valuable support through the provision of resources, volunteers and facilities. Now, more than ever, clubs are playing a vital role to support the wellbeing of those in their communities and alleviate pressure on critical health services.

"Working closely with the Department of Health and Social Care, Public Health England and the NHS, the wide reach and appeal of the Premier League and our clubs will continue to be used to promote important public health messaging throughout this crisis.

"The Premier League would like to reiterate that the thoughts of all our clubs are with all those directly affected by COVID-19​."

The Premier League and the Professional Footballers' Association (PFA) are discussing player wages as part of talks over how football in England should respond to the coronavirus pandemic.

Representatives from the English Football League (EFL) and League Managers Association (LMA) were also involved at the summit, which will continue for the next two days.

Premier League clubs Newcastle United, Tottenham, Norwich City and Bournemouth have placed members of non-playing staff on furlough, taking advantage of the UK government scheme in response to COVID-19 that will pay employees 80 per cent of their wages up to £2,500 per month.

Bournemouth and Norwich said they would top up those salaries to ensure furloughed staff receive full pay, although Tottenham's decision to cut staff pay by 20 per cent across the board came in for criticism given the wage packets of head coach Jose Mourinho and his playing squad are set to go untouched at this stage.

The resumption of the 2019-20 season and player safety was also on the agenda at Wednesday's meeting.

A statement issued by the PFA read: "Senior representatives from the PFA, Premier League, EFL and LMA met today and shared a constructive meeting regarding the challenges facing the game as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

"The meeting reiterated that the overriding priority is the health and well-being of the nation - including that of players, coaches, managers, club staff and supporters – and everyone agreed football must only return when it is safe and appropriate to do so.

"No decisions were taken today with discussions set to continue in the next 48 hours with a focus on several high-profile matters, including player wages and the resumption of the 2019-20 season."

Professional football in England is currently suspended until at least April 30, with the Football Association extending its June 1 deadline to complete the season indefinitely.

The Football Association has agreed to extend the 2019-2020 season indefinitely, while prolonging the suspension of all its leagues until at least April 30.

Last week, the FA halted the Premier League, the English Football League, domestic cup competitions and the women's professional game in response to the coronavirus pandemic wreaking havoc on the sporting world.

The body's rules and regulations state that its leagues "shall terminate not later than June 1" but the FA's board has confirmed the season can now go beyond that date in order to try to complete the calendar.

It was originally decided the professional game in England would be suspended until April 3, with that date now extended until at least the end of next month.

The FA said UEFA's decision to postpone Euro 2020 until next year allowed for flexibility in their efforts to finish the domestic season.

A statement read: "The FA, Premier League, EFL and women's professional game, together with the PFA [Professional Footballers' Assocation] and LMA [League Managers Association], understand we are in unprecedented times and our thoughts are with everyone affected by COVID-19.

"We're united in our commitment to finding ways of resuming the 2019-20 football season and ensuring all domestic and European club league and cup matches are played as soon as it is safe and possible to do so.

"We've collectively supported UEFA in postponing Euro 2020 to create space in the calendar to ensure domestic and European club league and cup matches have an increased opportunity to be played and, in doing so, maintain the integrity of each competition.

"The FA's Rules and Regulations state that 'the season shall terminate not later than June 1' and 'each competition shall, within the limit laid down by the FA, determine the length of its own playing season'.

"However, our board has agreed for this limit to be extended indefinitely for the 2019-20 season in relation to professional football. Additionally, we've collectively agreed that the professional game in England will be further postponed until no earlier than Thursday April 30."

There have been 2,626 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the United Kingdom, with 108 people having died.

Liverpool are 25 points clear of Manchester City at the top of the Premier League having won 27 of 29 matches in their bid to secure a first top-flight title since 1990.

Debate has been rife as to what should happen if leagues are not able to be completed, with many pundits saying the season should be declared null and void despite Liverpool's sizeable advantage, while others have argued they should be awarded the title.

The former option would cause a headache in determining promotion and relegation and the potential make-up of leagues in England for 2020-21.

Manchester United's on-loan goalkeeper Kieran O'Hara has been banned for six matches following an alleged biting incident during Burton Albion's draw with Peterborough United. 

The 23-year-old, who is on a season-long loan with League One side Burton, clashed with Peterborough forward Sammie Szmodics at a corner, with an image appearing to show O'Hara biting his opponent's arm. 

O'Hara was charged by the Football Association (FA) and despite denying his behaviour amounted to violent and/or improper conduct, a commission found him guilty of the charge and handed him the suspension along with a £2,500 fine. 

A statement from the FA read: "An independent regulatory commission has suspended Kieran O'Hara for six matches with immediate effect and fined him £2,500 for a breach of FA Rule E3. 

"The Burton Albion FC goalkeeper denied that his behaviour during the 44th minute of an EFL League One fixture against Peterborough United FC on Saturday 29 February 2020 amounted to violent and/or improper conduct but the charge was subsequently found proven. 

"The independent regulatory commission's written reasons will be published in due course." 

O'Hara is yet to feature for United's first team but has played twice for the Republic of Ireland at international level. 

Liverpool Under-23 coach Neil Critchley has left Anfield to take up the managerial position at League One side Blackpool.

Critchley has found himself thrust into the spotlight this season with Liverpool opting to field understrength line-ups for two first-team fixtures.

The 41-year-old took charge of a youthful side for the Carabao Cup tie at Aston Villa in December - a game that ended in a 5-0 defeat - with the first-team squad away for the FIFA Club World Cup and then stood up again when Liverpool met Shrewsbury Town in an FA Cup fourth-round replay during the winter break.

Liverpool academy director Alex Inglethorpe told the club's official website: "It’s a bittersweet day in many respects.

"Obviously losing a person and professional of Neil’s calibre is something that is a disappointment, but at the same time we have great excitement and joy that he has been given this wonderful opportunity.

"We see this as a reflection on the Academy as a whole, that it's an environment where players and coaches have a pathway to progression and self-improvement.

"Blackpool want Neil because of the work he's done at Liverpool and it shows to everyone within our system that if you work hard and work smart then rewards are there.

"Neil epitomises the best qualities of a modern coach: leadership skills, intelligence, compassion and a hunger for individual and collective improvement. Blackpool are very fortunate to have him and we wish him well."

Critchley replaces Simon Grayson at Bloomfield Road with Blackpool 13th in League One.

He has signed a contract that runs until the end of the 2022-23 season and club owner Simon Sadler was delighted to have got his man.

He said: "I would like to welcome Neil as he joins us on our journey and thank Liverpool for the way they have handled our approach.

"The fact that we've been able to attract a coach of Neil's calibre is testament to how this club is now viewed and is a result of the work that has been done here over recent months."

Bobby Madley will return to refereeing professional football in England next season, two years after the Professional Game Match Officials Limited (PGMOL) sacked him for sending a video in which he mocked a disabled person.

Madley left his role in August 2018, with a PGMOL statement at the time saying he had "decided to relocate due to a change in personal circumstances".

The 34-year-old went on to explain in a blog post on New Year's Eve last year that his dismissal related to a Snapchat video he sent to a friend that was subsequently passed to his employers.

He captioned a clip of a person with a walking impairment: "F*** me, I have a chance of winning the parents race this year" – something he later conceded was a "badly misjudged... private joke".

Madley moved to Norway after his dismissal and continued refereeing under the auspices of the Norwegian Football Federation.

In a blog post entitled "A New Chapter", the 34-year-old explained he would resume work in English Football at League One and League Two level – the third and fourth tiers of the country's professional structure.

"I've been away from the Premier League for what will be two years come the new season so a return to that level was never a possibility," he wrote.

"With the introduction of VAR and the many hours of training missed it would not have been reasonable to expect that. 

"I was offered, and accepted, the opportunity to start next season as a National List Referee. This group of referees officiate in League One and League Two.

"Like any referee I have the desire to perform at my best and to achieve the best I can.

"I know how hard that road is to referee at the top but I have the desire and passion to work hard to achieve my potential whatever that may be.

"I still have dreams that I thought were dead but for me they are now very much alive."

For the remainder of this season, Madley will officiate at games lower down the pyramid to reintegrate into the English game. He has also agreed to attend a Football Association discrimination workshop. 

Wolves have announced the signing of teenage full-back Luke Matheson from Rochdale.

The 17-year-old completed a medical with Nuno Espirito Santo's side on Friday and has returned to the League One club on loan for the remainder of the season.

Wolves have reportedly paid £1million to sign the Rochdale academy product.

Matheson made the headlines when he scored at Old Trafford in September as Rochdale held Manchester United to a 1-1 draw in the EFL Cup third round before losing on penalties.

He also impressed in the FA Cup third round this month, setting up Aaron Wilbraham to secure a 1-1 draw with Newcastle United at home, with the Magpies winning the replay 4-1.

Wolves sporting director Kevin Thelwell told the club's website: "Our recruitment team have watched Luke since he made his debut at 15.

"The system we play, it's set up for him. He plays at right-back for Rochdale at the moment, but he's a right-wing-back in our eyes because of his energy and ability to continually sprint and recover.

"At 17, for a boy to have so much experience, be English and have such a strong mentality is fantastic, and we think he's everything we're about.

"It's great for all of us to get him in the building, we're really excited and we think he's going to be a top talent."

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