With the coronavirus pandemic currently playing havoc with pretty much every aspect of daily life, it was no surprise when professional football was suspended until April 3rd. And now that UEFA have confirmed the postponement of the European Championships until next year, the FA, Premier League and the EFL need to decide what they will do with regards to the season currently on hold.
The biggest problem for many clubs is the loss of revenue they face, especially the clubs at the lower end of the football pyramid. This will push many of them towards collapse as they simply won’t have be in a strong enough financial situation to weather the storm. Barnet have already placed all non-playing staff on immediate notice of redundancy. That is terrible. People through no fault of their own are at risk of losing their jobs. The Gillingham chairman has stated that the club risks going bust in the next three months, due to the lack of income on matchdays. Non-League side Hyde United has even taken to taking donations in the form of ‘virtual tickets, matchday packages and food’. Basically asking fans to donate what they might spend to attend a match. They, like any business could be seriously and adversly affected by the enforced break in the season.
There is also the issue of what to do for the sides who might be relegated or promoted. For those in danger of relegation they will argue the season has to be finished to give them a fair chance of beating the drop. In the Premier League there is still ten games left to play. For Norwich, Aston Villa and Bournemouth, that is ten games for them to pick up as many points as possible. It’s the same situation for the sides in the relegation zones in the EFL. With games still to go, they will be itching to get the games played. If they are to be relegated they would obviously prefer it to be by way of completeing the season.
In the Premier League, Liverpool have such a commanding lead that they are just two wins away from winning their first league title for 30 years. They absolutely have been the best team in the league this season. They deserve to be named Premier League champions. But they would prefer to do it by completing the fixture list, I am certain. If the season is declared null and void, and no one wins the league or is relegated, that just would not be fair to Liverpool, who have been so utterly dominant in the league this seaso, even more so than the Invincible Arsenal side of 2003-04.
While that team did go unbeaten for an entire season, they drew about eight games and only won 28. Liverpool are very close to matching that number of wins with ten games still to go. Liverpool have played 29 games this season and everyone bar Arsenal has played 28 games. That means we have reached the three quarters mark of the league season. They could therefore declare the season finished with the current table used as the final one. But while that would give Liverpool the title that their performances deserve, there would always be an asterix hovering over their achievement. And you would still have the problem of the sides in and around the relegation zone wanting to play the remaining fixtures to give themselves a chance to stay in the top division.
UEFA has decided to postpone the European Championships until next summer to give the various leagues around Europe the chance to finish their domestic and european club competitions. And after an emergency meeting on Thursday, the FA, Premier League and EFL have decided to postpone the season until April 30th at the earliest. The FA has also extended the deadline to finish the season (June 1st) indefinitely. I think that has to be the priority now. To maintain the integrity of the league, the remaining fixtures need to be fulfilled. This is an unprecedented situation for everyone, let alone those in the world of sport, but now that so much of the season has been played, it is imperative for it to be fully finished, including the remaining domestic and european cup competitions. The new season will be a blank slate for everyone; if it has to start later than normal, then that’s what has to happen.
Overall, I think the FA and the leagues have made the correct call to make finishing the season their priority. While public safety is paramount at this stage, with so much of the season played, it is fairer to everyone to complete the current season, rather than simply declare it null and void, or gift Liverpool the title, or randomly relegate sides, or however else you try and work it. Once it is safe to do so, football can become the wonderful distraction it always has been once again.