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Times, they are-a changin’: the ominous realism of Covid-19 and the EFL

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The coming days, weeks and months are about more than who wins the match, the league, who is promoted or relegated but something far greater that can be summed up in one word – survival.

General Views of Sport Venues After Events Postponed Due To Coronavirus Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images

We live in unprecedented times with sporting events postponed or cancelled over the past couple of months. Such is the nature of Covid-19, few people (in or out of football) know how this will affect the beautiful game long-term. Indeed, Graeme Souness spoke about his concerns over how even the Premier League could be susceptible to the fallout; he suggested that - barring the top six clubs - Coronavirus may be an unprecedented disaster for football clubs and seriously hit player wages.

The line it is drawn,

The curse it is cast,

Led in part by ex-Sunderland Academy Graduate, Jordan Henderson, Premier League players have already taken a temporary pay cut on a voluntary basis. But pundits think the so-called Premier League gravy train could finally be hitting the buffers after years of huge investment from TV deals - the pot of gold has increased the risk factor, with Sunderland an example how far clubs can slide. Once out of the running for that revenue stream, life becomes even harder to get by.

Sunderland v Manchester United - Premier League Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

The slow one now,

Will later be fast,

Alarm bells for League’s One and Two of the EFL have already sounded, much like the many small to medium sized businesses in other commercial avenues across the country.

Some worry that an extended period in lockdown or even playing behind closed doors could put some clubs out of business. We only need to see the examples of Bury and Bolton at the start of the season, to highlight how financial fragility could so fatally jeopardise the future of so many clubs.

Bury, especially, stands as a cold, hard lesson in economics at this level.

Bury Football Club Expelled From The English Football League After 125 Years Photo by Visionhaus/Getty Images

At the other end of spectrum, if the long-speculated take-over of neighbours Newcastle,is allowed the green light in the coming weeks, the timing could not be worse. If half the reports are to be believed, the kind of money spoken about puts the Manchester City owners in the shade. Well, we can only hope the Black and Whites keep their gloating low-key, but then the Mags are not renowned for their sense of modesty or self-awareness.

As the present now,

Will later be past,

Former Magpies boss Graeme Souness has gone further with his current concerns, by highlighting the plight of League One sides including Sunderland, suggesting that if the current level of uncertainty continues for much longer, even a huge club like Sunderland could find themselves ‘staring down the barrel’. A stark warning for our long-suffering fans.

When he made comments about a Footballing Apocalypse last week, he appears genuinely concerned. Some may feel it scaremongering; Souness the dour, hard as flint Scotsman but despite that, he does not speak unsympathetically nor comment lightly on the club potentially ‘fighting for its future’.

The fans themselves know only too well, if Souness’ words are true, it wouldn’t be the first time the club has been in a precarious position financially. But, just as I said earlier, these are unprecedented times which consequently makes the future even more uncertain. Indeed, I have never written anything concerned as I am for the game or club we all love. The appointment of a new CEO, Jim Rodwell, this week partly arrests some concerns, for now…

The order is rapidly fadin’,

And the first one now,

Will later be last,

How the game or lower leagues will come out of this lockdown is still to be decided with nothing like this before. Indeed, the last occasion that Europe cancelled events on such a scale was the beginning of the Second World War. Before that it was due to the First World War, but both of those conflicts had something in common which made the decision behind the football calendar far easier to deal with: the outbreak of those wars happened within the first couple of months of the season, so to wipe out the fixture list was an easy and fair decision to all.

Oddly enough, it could be argued the beginning of both wars started virtually at the height of Sunderland’s powers. In 1913, on route to the Championship, Sunderland had set a record thirteen straight wins in the league, only bettered in recent times - also coming agonisingly close to completing the first League and FA Cup double of the century, long before Tottenham, nearly 50 years later. Sunderland still had a strong team heading into the 1914/15 season.

Spurs V Sunderland Photo by Topical Press Agency/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Similarly, the Sunderland team of the 1930s, led by the legendary captain Raich Carter, had lifted the league and finally the FA Cup the following season in 1937. It’s argued that was Sunderland’s finest team, which when the comparisons include ‘the team of all talents’, is saying something. Yet again it would be broken-up by the outbreak of war in 1939. Who knows what those two sides could have achieved without the road to war?

Perilously, by contrast, Sunderland’s current side could prove the worst placed Black Cats team in the club’s history. So, if previously profound events of war left such a lasting trauma on our football club, we can just imagine what may happen in the coming months.

For the times they are a-changin’

‘Some people think football is a matter of life and death. I don’t like that attitude. I can assure them it is much more serious than that.’ - Bill Shankly

It is thought that Shankly was misquoted somewhat; so, I will not dwell on that too long. But perhaps it is about context: the coming days, weeks and months are about more than who wins the match, the league, who is promoted or relegated but something far greater that can be summed up in one word – survival.

Survival of our loved ones, ourselves, our livelihoods, our beautiful game, and our way of life. Stay safe, Sunderland!

Sheffield United v Sunderland AFC - Carabao Cup Third Round Photo by George Wood/Getty Images