Now bear with me on this one because, and I apologise in advance, this is a post about football and lockdown. I know. We are all sick of hearing about lockdown and what is happening to football because of it, but…I have some thoughts.
We now have a clearer picture of where we stand with football. Voiding the seasons have been scrapped (and rightly so). If you wanted the season to be voided, let’s be honest. You had an agenda: either you didn’t want to be relegated or you didn’t want Liverpool to win the league. (They deserve to win the Premier League. Believe me, I wish they didn’t. But they do.)
Voiding seasons would also have brought up big financial problems. If a season had been voided, would that have meant that contracts for that year wouldn’t count? Would a club have been able to refuse to pay a player a bonus because the season officially never happened? Would we, as fans, have been able to get a refund for all the tickets we purchased, because after all the season never happened?
Before the season restarts, it seems as good a time as any to talk about the current situation in English football. As of right now, the current situation is as follows:
- Non-league football has ended for the season with no decision made about promotion and relegation.
- League 1 and 2 have ended their season. Looking to run a points-per-game (PPG) system. Relegations and promotions have been enforced (look away now Bolton fans).
- The Premier League and Championship finally have a return date which will see the return of football to both divisions, but if we have multiple positive COVID tests then we are probably back to square one.
I am glad that voiding the season has been removed as an option now. Let’s talk about the two options that are going ahead. PPG and finishing the season:
At a glance, PPG seems like the obvious answer. Most of the season has been completed so why not just settle it now? League 2 and League 1 have taken this route and it remains open for the other leagues if playing matches sees a spike in COVID-19 cases. The issue with this is that a team’s fate hinges on so many variables; deciding a season now means that some teams have an advantage due to the teams they have faced. Is it fair to Team A, who are pushing for a playoff place and who have played all of the top-half teams twice, to be compared to Team B, who still have the toughest opponents ahead of them. I would say no, and for me this is why PPG will never work. So many teams could miss out on promotion, playoffs and Europe, or suffer relegation because they had a tougher schedule than their rivals. Individual clubs should certainly not be allowed to vote on the decision as they will all, naturally, choose the option that serves them best. AFC Wimbledon, for instance, were never going to vote to continue the season. Why would they if they can doom another team to relegation?
This brings us to the other and really the only option available: finishing seasons behind closed doors, which currently is the route being taken in the top two tiers. (Cue Twitter temper tantrums and cries of “This isn’t football!”) Obviously no one wants to finish a season like this, but unfortunately there’s a pandemic on and we don’t have much of a choice. Mass gatherings are banned and will be for the foreseeable future, so we should brace ourselves now for behind-closed-doors games next season. So much will be missed out on: Liverpool fans will miss the teams first title in 30 years; Wolves fans will miss out on trips to European stadiums and seeing the club win the Europa League (“Yeah right,’ I hear you scoff); and Barrow fans will miss out on celebrating the club’s return to the football league, which they have been chasing since 1972. And the FA Cup is still up for grabs. Imagine finally winning it and missing out on the euphoria of being there.
Despite all of this, finishing seasons behind closed doors remains the best option, as it gives everyone a fair chance to finish a season and ensure that the final points reflect a full season. Tranmere and Sunderland, who have been forced to do PPG in their leagues, would probably haven given anything to continue their seasons, and it doesn’t seem fair. Of course, this is easier in the Premier League where the money is available to ensure that players and staff are tested constantly for COVID-19, but presents a bigger challenge for the lower leagues who don’t have the same resources.
The main hurdle for clubs trying to finish a season is contracts, which in most normal circumstances finish at the end of June. Players will be out of contract in the summer, and teams that would have had players available during the season may now see players out of contract with matches still to play. It seems unfair that clubs will lose out on players in such a way. Contracts are murky at the best of times, and while it is easy to see a footballer as an asset, they are still entitled to the same workers’ rights as the rest of us. They can’t be kept at a club beyond their contract, and I can only assume that any emergency measures on contracts would be in breach of their rights (unless agreed upon by both parties).
The final spanner in the works is that finishing the season with such a short timescale has resulted in the proposal for all games to be broadcast and spread out across the weekends. While this is fantastic news for right now as fans can still watch their teams play, what does it mean for the future of 3pm games in the UK? We have seen more and more games moved to TV slots as the Sky Sports vultures circle overhead, which inconveniences fans who attend games. Therefore it is important that we see a return to 3pm football when we are back to normal, and that this doesn’t usher in a new era of fully televised sport. Live football is true football, and the ‘real-life’ experience should be protected at all costs.