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What course of action should English football take to finish off the postponed 2019/20 season?

Football has to resume again at some point, but should we continue the current season or start from scratch? Matthew Crichton looks into the options the FA have, and how it will affect clubs like Sunderland.

Sunderland v Ipswich Town - Sky Bet League One Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

The Coronavirus worldwide pandemic has produced drastic effects on almost every aspect of human life. To help prevent the spread, all football was temporarily postponed with levels below the National League North/South ended immediately with the fixtures being made null and void.

This meant that sides such as Sunderland AFC Ladies and South Shields missed out on almost nailed on promotion to higher tiers, a decision which caused controversy across the entire non-league spectrum.

That decision raised the question of what will happen to clubs higher up the pyramid in the EFL and the Premier League – will we conclude the season no matter how long it takes? Will we finalise the tables based or average points per game? Or will we simply null and void the season as if it did not exist?

Liverpool FC v AFC Bournemouth - Premier League
Liverpool are currently 25 points clear of Man City in the Premier League - would it be fair to take that away?
Photo by Alex Livesey - Danehouse/Getty Images

Should we finish the season no matter how long it takes?

Whilst it is thoroughly understood that health is priority, the vast majority of football fans would like to see the season concluded at a later date once it is deemed safe to play again. This option allows for league and cup competitions to be concluded, preventing three quarters of the season becoming non-existent.

The Athletic reported recently that FIFA will “extend (will) 2019/20 football season indefinitely”, providing each individual county’s FA with the final decision on how to move forward. Should the English FA decide that completing the season is integral, games could be played during the summer when Euro 2020 would have taken place.

However, although we would all relish the return of football, whether fans would be allowed back into stadiums would be another matter. It seems more likely that games will be played behind close doors at first, but this is all dependant upon how the Coronavirus pandemic develops across the coming months.

Completing fixtures is the fairest way to conclude the season, it would show great strength for every football fan worldwide that even such a deadly pandemic cannot permanently postpone the joy of football. The main question is how long can we wait before it is decided that completing the season would have too much of a detrimental effect on the following season, especially with international tournaments included?

South Shields v Sunderland: Pre-Season Friendly
North East based club South Shields were top of the Northern Premier League by 12 points before it was declared null and void.
Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Should we finalise the tables based on average points per game?

Another proposal put forward has been as average points per game system which would finalise league tables based on the games that have been played. This method has been proposed in the lower professional Scottish leagues, with 75% of teams required to agree.

A positive of this style is that this season would not affect next season fixture wise, plus teams who were on course for promotion will be rewarded for their consistent form. Also, using this method rather than a null and void system prevents the scrapping of this year’s history, each fixture will still be valid rather than becoming meaningless.

However, clubs, particularly who would face relegation, are likely to argue it is not fair as some teams would have played easier fixtures on paper. A team performing poorly may have just played most of the best clubs with the easier fixtures remaining, surely then they were more likely to pick up extra points.

Sunderland fans more than anyone know the drastic financial implications of relegation, so imagine being relegated without having the chance to play your remaining fixtures to stay up. In the Premier League, Bournemouth would be relegated on goal difference through a single goal – surely that would not be fair?

Coventry City v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One
Should a points per game system be adopted, Coventry would win League One whilst Sunderland would fail to achieve promotion.
Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Should we null and void the season as if it did not exist?

Now to the final option, a complete null and void of the 2019/20 season. This essentially destroys the history of this campaign, no goals were scored, no records were broken, no club is promoted or relegated, no cups were won, and each pound spent was for nothing, it sounds absolutely horrendous.

This would mean Liverpool’s marvellous Premier League title run never happened, clubs like Southend and Bolton would be spared of almost certain relegation. Local non-league clubs Consett and Hebburn would lose their once in a lifetime potential chance to play at Wembley. Even our arch-rivals Newcastle would lose their best FA Cup run under Mike Ashley.

Having said that, should the pandemic continue to worsen, it may become the only option possible unless teams are playing to play an intense number of fixtures within a month, which for a Man City still competing across three tournaments could be overwhelmingly tight. Pep Guardiola’s side have 12 remaining fixtures minimum, with 19 maximum should they make the FA Cup and Champions League final, that’s three months’ worth of games at least normally!

The main issue for the FA is how do they plan when the virus currently obtains complete control, until it becomes clear when it is safe to socialise in mass numbers, football is playing a highly ambiguous waiting game.

Bolton Wanderers v Milton Keynes Dons - Sky Bet League One
How would the FA handle Bolton’s point deduction should the season be declared null and void?
Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images

To try and gain a sense of public opinion on the matter, I asked the Roker Report readers how they thought the season should be concluded, and as you can see below, over 50% voted that the season should be completed in full. This decision is also perhaps rather unselfish with Sunderland unlikely to even achieve automatic promotion this season.

It appears clear that football fans just want a return to normality, no one wants to allow the Coronavirus to negatively affect our great sport. Rather than losing a year worth of history or concluding the season unfairly by average points, football fans want to see the season completed properly, so we can all try to forget this pandemic ever happened and focus on the future of enjoying football.

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