Government confirms it is keen on football's return but the game still faces many challenges to make that happen

Football could be back in June. Credit: PA

Football’s return came a baby step closer on Thursday when the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Oliver Dowden confirmed the government was keen for it to get going again, as long as it could do so safely.

But after a “positive” meeting with the CEO’s of the FA, Premier League and EFL, Dowden seemed to indicate the government’s approval came with other conditions too: “This should include widening access for fans to view live coverage and ensure finances from the game's resumption supports the wider football family.”

It’s no secret the government is convinced football can lift the nation’s mood and it believes this is best done with free-to-air television coverage of as many games as possible.

It appears as if there’s a good deal of pressure on those who run the game to strike a deal with their broadcast partners to make this happen.

It’s also clear the government wants a commitment that some of the cash generated by football finishing the season is distributed down the leagues, to protect any number of clubs in the lower divisions who are teetering on the edge of a financial precipice.

Oliver Dowden said the meeting had been 'positive'. Credit: PA

There is huge irony in a government that was openly criticising football for "not doing its bit" just a few weeks ago, now not only hoping it will help bring a smile back to a traumatised nation but is also attaching conditions to that return.

However, it is safety that is by far the sport's biggest and most sensitive obstacle and devising a medical road map back to competitive action is only part of the challenge.

Perhaps even more tricky will be to convince players and managers that what they’re being asked to do is low risk.

They were all handed the Return to Training protocol this week and to many the long list of restrictive rules will have come as a reality check.

A test before training for the first time, a further two tests a week, temperature checks and medical questionnaires every day, wearing face masks for all sessions, physios to dress in full PPE, pitches, balls and even corner flags disinfected daily; it’s a dystopian world they’re not used to.

Graham Potter, Brighton’s manager summed up what many are thinking: “Yes, there are concerns.

"I’ve got a young family, my wife’s family have health issues so there are concerns there.

"But there are concerns all over the country as well at the moment.

"But at the same time, we are human beings like everybody else, we need that clarity if we can.”

So far players and managers have only been shown the protocol for training; Potter would like more detail: “It would be nice to have a bit more of a clear idea about what it is going to look like as we go towards the games.

"If you have a plan, that normally provides a bit of confidence and clarity and that can allay some fears.

"At the moment we haven’t got that.”

Premier League winners could still be crowed this season. Credit: PA

Even if that missing clarity emerges there could well be a sizeable percentage of players who don’t feel safe or comfortable enough to throw themselves into contact football.

These concerns might become academic for Leagues 1 and 2 later on Friday.

They are meeting separately, and it could be that one or both of them vote to end their season now.

Carrying on is an expensive exercise, given that match day income is such an important revenue stream for all clubs in the lower leagues.

Unlike the Premier League, the cash they share from their TV contract does not make playing on a more viable proposition.

If they all start phase one, socially distanced training next week they’ll be doing do it after one of the other major European leagues has played its first round of matches.

The Bundesliga in Germany is a few weeks ahead of England and how it progresses will have a huge impact on what happens here.

If for whatever reason the German league there is derailed it will suck the momentum out of any planned return in England.

Conversely if it goes well then it may just give the game here the confidence it’s probably lacking right now.

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