Rich Speight says...
Football is in a precarious position. If nothing is done, or decisions are made in the interests of the FA, UEFA or FIFA rather than of smaller clubs, players and fans, the bottom of the pyramid both domestically and across Europe will simply fall away in the coming months. Of all of the options available to the football authorities, I think that two that are most appealing are ‘complete it behind closed doors’ and ‘one season over two years’.
My first preference would be for the domestic league season to finish behind closed doors after the peak of the Covid-19 outbreak has passed, possibly in July and August of 2019. Cup competitions, domestic and European, should be declared null and void. This model would see a massive increase in the number of televised games, physical season ticket holders in the EFL given free passes to iFollow streaming services, and clubs generating revenue from the massive increase in online viewing. The start of the 2020-21 season could be delayed until October this year, with the EFL Cup and Trophy suspended for a year in order to ensure that we have space for the fixtures to be played in time for a delayed European Championships to be held and a normal season to begin in 2021-22.
The second option would be to cancel season 2020-21 and turn the current campaign into 2019-21, with games going ahead with crowds in attendance once a Covid-19 vaccine is in place of the virus has been effectively controlled.
In order to make either of these viable, the PFA may need to broker a deal that sees current player contracts including loan deals automatically extended until the end of the current season. A solidarity fund possibly administered by an independent charitable trust - clearly needs to be established where football authorities, government, clubs, fans, owners, sponsors and TV broadcasters could contribute to a pool of money aimed at keeping those clubs outside of the Premier League financially viable.
A really good place for readers to find out more about the implications of all the different options available to the EFL and other football authorities is the latest episode of The Price of Football podcast.
Phil West says...
I think the thing that is important to keep in mind is that we are in completely uncharted territory here, and that football is merely one of countless sports worldwide that have been forced to press the ‘pause’ button in the light of this pandemic.
If you’re an NHL fan whose team is in contention for the Stanley Cup play-offs, or a rugby fan whose team is targeting European Cup victory, you’re certainly going to be feeling less than thrilled at the prospect of seeing your season wiped out.
However, this is clearly an issue that is far, far bigger than sport.
In an ideal scenario, I think we would restart league football as soon as it is safe to do so, playing the remainder of the games to a conclusion and allowing teams in contention for titles and promotion their opportunity to achieve their aims.
Would I be desperately upset if this meant abandoning the European Championships or postponing it for a year? No. As excited as I am at the prospect of England taking on Europe’s best this summer, the world wouldn’t end if we had to wait for another year, perhaps, to get our fix of international tournament football.
Ultimately, this is not something that football bodies have ever had to oversee in modern times, so you can’t blame them for considering all possibilities. The ‘behind closed doors’ scenario is an interesting one. Would teams be willing to play their games with no atmosphere and a sense of ‘so what’ if it meant them being able to complete the fixtures? Could the players get themselves ‘up for it’ in that situation? It would be interesting to find out one way or the other.
For me, the idea of simply ending a season with the points standings as they are, and awarding championships, promotions, and seeing teams being relegated without would be incredibly unfair. Unless a team has already mathematically guaranteed themselves promotion or a title, it is a purely hypothetical scenario.
If you’re a club in danger of relegation, naturally, you’d love the season to end and to be declared null and void, and conversely, if you’re in contention for silverware, you’d want the exact opposite. Clubs and football authorities must tread a very fine line between protecting their interests and accepting that this issue goes way deeper than sport, and that the health and well-being of millions of their fellow citizens must take precedence.
Steve Tiltman says...
Whichever option is eventually chosen by the EFL, it will need agreement from everyone involved if we are to avoid years of uncertainty and legal battles.
I’ve seen several possibilities mentioned including ‘play out the season whenever it’s possible’ and ‘start next season on time with this year’s current points totals carried over’. Then there are also those who suggest the season be declared null and void.
As much as I would like that last option to be taken since Sunderland look very unlikely to be automatically promoted, it’s hardly fair, is it? Coventry, having been on a brilliant run, sit seven points clear of third place with a game in hand on everyone around them. I can’t imagine for a second that they would accept the season simply being written off.
Those who promote the idea of playing out the season when it becomes possible undoubtedly have the fairest solution. However, I suspect the enforced shutdown due to Covid-19 will not be over as quickly as some hope. I think it’s highly unlikely the English leagues will get going again on April 4th – the somewhat arbitrary date chosen at the announcement of the league suspension.
Football was suspended in Italy four days before it was in England, and we are told they are three or four weeks ahead of us in the lifecycle of the coronavirus outbreak. As I write, their season is supposedly starting again on the weekend of April 4th, yet their confirmed case count is at 28,000 and the total number of deaths is 2,158 and rising exponentially. In three or four weeks, the UK will be in a similar position. Football will not be happening and there will be far larger and more important factors at play.
Starting a new season with this season’s current points totals seems like a good option, not least because it would mean we get the 100 point season we were promised! But it still wouldn’t be fair, even though Coventry would get to carry over their advantage. What do we do to balance up the following?
- Uneven numbers of games played.
- The fact some teams would have avoided tough games in building their points total this season. For example, Sunderland have had to play Coventry twice but Peterborough have only played them once.
- Bolton’s points deduction.
There is no ideal solution that will be fair for everyone and avoid a distortion of the sporting calendar for seasons to come. We either accept some degree of unfairness or accept a shift in the calendar. I, for one, would not mind attending games at the height of summer for two or three seasons, so I’m leaning towards ‘play out the season however long it takes’.
And it would be a terrible shame if Coventry were cheated out of promotion.