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Liverpool criticise city mayor over claims fans would break coronavirus social distancing rules if they win Premier League

Joe Anderson had said resuming football is a “non-starter” as Reds fans would celebrate outside Anfield if the club win the championship

Liverpool say they are “aware of and disappointed by” comments made by Joe Anderson, the Mayor of the city, which suggested that Reds fans would “congregate outside Anfield” should football matches resume behind closed doors.

In a strongly-worded official statement, the Premier League leaders said there was “a lack of evidence” to Mr Anderson’s claims, which were made in an interview with the BBC, and that the club’s primary focus was “responding to the humanitarian crisis which continues to unfold” with regards to Covid-19.

Mayor Anderson had suggested that the idea of restarting English football in June was “a non-starter”, and cited the possibility of large gatherings of Liverpool supporters outside their club’s stadium as a possible reason.

Anderson said: “Even if it was behind closed doors, there’d be many thousands of people who would turn up outside Anfield. There’s not many people who would respect what we were saying and stay away from the ground, a lot of people would come to celebrate so I think it’s a non-starter.”

Asked whether playing games at neutral venues, which has been suggested by Premier League clubs. would help, the Mayor said: “Even then, I guess that a lot of people would turn up outside Anfield to celebrate and I understand the police’s concerns around that, so there’s a real difficulty here for us.

“I think it would be really difficult for the police to keep people apart and maintain social distancing if they were going to celebrate outside Anfield. It would be farcical.

“It’s difficult for us to try to stop people gathering in parks when the weather has been good, especially young people, and I fear people would just ignore it.

“The police are right to be concerned about that as we are here in the city, and pubic health officials are also concerned about that, so we’d ask the Premier League and government to take into account all of these concerns that we have.”

Liverpool’s response came in the shape of an official club statement issued on Thursday afternoon.

It read: “As a club, we are aware of and disappointed by comments attributed to Mayor Joe Anderson in a media interview which was published today.

“As well as a lack of evidence to support such claims, we would also point to recent discussions with Mayor Anderson relating to the possibility of any behind-closed-doors football, which concluded that it is important that key stakeholders across the city continue to engage and work collaboratively.

“In recent weeks, we have engaged with supporters’ groups who have informed us of their determination to respect social distancing measures and, in the event of a resumption of football being announced, we would continue to work with them and other key stakeholders in keeping with our collective desire to achieve this crucial objective.

“As part of our ongoing operations, we are in regular contact with the Mayor and his office and we hope these conversations can continue.

“In the meantime, our primary focus remains responding to the humanitarian crisis which continues to unfold and in particular providing ongoing support to various NHS initiatives and those experiencing food poverty and social isolation.”

Anderson’s comments were also criticised by Liverpool supporters’ union Spirit of Shankly, who said they were “angered” at the notion fans would break lockdown to celebrate.

A statement from the fans’ trust read: “The Mayor has chosen to speak out on a hypothetical matter, namechecking Liverpool supporters without discussion with those fans or fan groups.

“There is no evidence to support the Mayor’s perception that Liverpool supporters will break any lockdown regulations and gather outside of Anfield should football be resumed and played behind closed doors.”

In the same interview Mr Anderson, a proud Everton supporter, went on to state his belief that Liverpool – 25 points clear at the top of the Premier League when play was suspended in March – should be crowned champions even if the season is cancelled entirely.

“I think the best thing to do is to actually end the season,” he said. “It isn’t just about Liverpool – they’ve clearly won the league – they deserve it, they should be crowned league champions.

“The bottom line is, though, this is about health and safety and people’s lives and I think football should have to come second in regards to making a choice here.”

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