Next week’s Merseyside derby will take place at Goodison Park as planned after the Toffees were granted a safety certificate for the remaining matches of the 2019-20 season.
Liverpool will also be able to play all of their remaining home games across Stanley Park at Anfield, seemingly ending proposals to play any games deemed ‘high risk’ away from Merseyside at neutral venues.
The announcement was widely expected given Merseyside Police and Mayor Joe Anderson had given their approval for the plans in recent days.
The decision was formally taken following a meeting of Liverpool’s Ground Safety Advisory Group (GSAG) on Wednesday morning.
A GSAG statement read:
“We are satisfied that the considerable evidence and guidance provided by the Government, Everton and Liverpool Football Clubs, Public Health colleagues and Merseyside Police will ensure that the outstanding fixtures for the 2019-20 Premier League season can be safely and securely played at both Goodison Park and Anfield.
“A lot of factors have been taken into consideration by the GSAG especially the safety of the players, match officials and staff in attendance at both stadia, We are confident the measures in place will allow the matches to be held behind closed doors without any detrimental impact to all concerned and recommend to the city council that the safety certificates for both grounds be amended to allow this to happen.
“I’m sure fans of both teams will welcome this recommendation and, subject to ratification, we look forward to watching the first of these matches - the Merseyside Derby on 21 June - which will be broadcast live on free-to-air TV for the first time since the Premier League began.
“We would also advised that everyone, wherever they may be watching these fixtures to strongly adhere to the guidance on social distancing around the current Covid-19 pandemic and for not only these matches but the wider reaction measures anticipated for the city.”
The neutral ground plan had been discussed by police at a national level as part of the Premier League’s ‘project restart’ plan.
Deputy Chief Constable Mark Roberts, the national lead for football policing, had identified the derby as one of six matches that could be moved to neutral venues because of the risk of supporters gathering outside the stadium, contravening social distancing rules introduced to combat the spread of coronavirus.
Although a huge match in itself, the derby will potentially have extra significance should Manchester City lose to Arsenal the previous Wednesday, meaning Liverpool could seal the title with a win at Goodison.
The Everton Fans’ Forum, The Blue Union and Spirit of Shankly held discussions with both clubs and the council to offer reassurance that the supporters could be trusted to stay away, with the game scheduled to be shown on free-to-air TV in the UK.
A joint statement by The Blue Union and Spirit of Shankly said:
“The Spirit of Shankly and the Blue Union welcome the news that games are to be played on Merseyside. Building on the magnificent community work both sets of fans have done throughout this pandemic, we are confident that supporters of these two great clubs will respect safety advice about avoiding visiting stadia where home and away fixtures are taking place. We fully understand the importance of lockdown as a measure to control COVID-19 and would encourage fans to stay away from any stadium and avoid congregating in numbers.”
In a letter to supporters on Tuesday evening, Everton chief executive Denise Barrett-Baxendale urged fans to “be part of marking this new chapter of OUR Everton history, by experiencing the first-ever ‘Behind Closed Doors’ Merseyside derby safely - watching in your own homes, with loved ones.”
As well as the derby, Everton’s four other remaining matches will take place in L4, starting with the visit of Leicester on Wednesday July 1 at 6pm.