I wrote on this page last week that “Football cannot of course in any way be immune from the impact of the pandemic that we are all facing”, not exactly a Nostradamus-like profound prediction of how things could turn out, more a realisation of the inevitability that football could simply not just carry on oblivious to what was happening across global society. Then came the announcement last Friday that the Premier League and Football League had, like the vast majority of sporting competitions across Europe and the world, been suspended initially until at least the 3rd of April and as of yesterday until the end of April.
As much as we would all love to see the game resume as soon as possible, as above anything else that would mean we were on our way back to some form of ‘normality’ whatever that might look like, you would be incredibly hard-pushed to find anyone who thinks it will restart so soon. With the peak of the pandemic projected to be at the very least weeks, and more likely months, away for most countries, it would seem incredibly unlikely that we will be watching any live football even behind closed doors any time before the originally scheduled end of the season.
Of course the first question that leaps to mind is whether the suspended competitions will be completed and if so how could this be done appropriately and equitably? One possibility that has been mooted is simply finishing the season as it currently stands with Liverpool being declared champions, the European places being allocated as per current league position and Norwich, Villa and Bournemouth (condemned only by goal difference in the latter’s case) being relegated to be replaced by Leeds, West Brom and Fulham.
While there is undoubtedly some logic to that proposition, it would unequivocally undermine the integrity of the competitions. As much as it would take a collapse of beyond Devon Loch proportions for Liverpool not to be crowned champions with them needing just two wins from their remaining nine games, it is still not mathematically certain that Manchester City couldn’t catch them. It is inarguable that Liverpool fully deserve the title having been the best team by streets all season but as yet they haven’t won it.
If the season halted at this stage Sheffield United would miss out on qualification for the Champions League, given Man City’s ban, by just 2 points but have a game in hand on both Manchester United and Chelsea and would argue they had every chance of overhauling that gap in their remaining ten games. Just as Wolves, Spurs, Arsenal & co might suggest that with nine points separating fourth and eleventh the race for European qualification has far from run its course.
At the bottom, with three teams level on 27 points as they fight to stay out of the bottom three, and in all six teams separated 8 points, it is too early to doom the current bottom three to relegation especially given the likely financial implications. That is without even considering the complexities at the top of the Championship and promotion, play-offs and relegation through the second tier and below.
West Ham co-owner Karren Brady stirred up something off a hornets’ nest, not least in the red half of Merseyside and on the South Coast, when she suggested that the season should be declared “null and void”, with the Hammers one of those teams level on points with Bournemouth and teetering on the brink she would say that wouldn’t she?
In reality the only fair way to decide the 2019/20 season is to get it finished. This may not be for some months and may require matches to be played in quick succession, possibly behind closed doors, and may require a different maybe curtailed format for 2020/2, but to do anything else would completely undermine the competitive foundation upon which the sport is built.
We of course have already had the news that Euro 2020 has been postponed for a year which would create some space for the completion of the domestic programmes and the European competitions. Yet it is being reported through some channels that UEFA are demanding £275 million in compensation from domestic clubs and leagues for doing so. A position that begs the question as to how that can possibly be justified even by an organisation as clearly money-driven as our friends in Nyon? At the same time what is to stop the clubs and leagues simply refusing to pay and breaking away from UEFA?
Whenever and however football is to re-start and we simply must believe it will even if it looks very different from what we are used to, the other consideration, worry and tangible fear for us football obsessives is how we are going to survive such an extended period without our own version of reassuring normality and routine we get from watching our teams and any live football we can?
To date I have just about lasted for a whole week deprived of football to watch, analyse, review and discuss but I have filled the time through a combination of moaning and complaining, discussing the implications, impact and how matters should be resolved. However now that we find ourselves heading into a weekend in which we should have been watching the Quarter Finals of the FA Cup as well as the rest of the league programmes through the divisions and across Europe we are well and truly hurtling towards the void.
If the Interlulls (© Arseblog) are hard to deal with we at least know they will come to an end eventually and we have other sports to help us to pass the time, this enforced football and sporting purgatory will not end for weeks, months even, or god forbid years.
Already Mrs Football Nerd and myself, as well as various (drinking and football-following) associates of ours, have found ourselves drawn to competitive cooking programmes to try, in some way, to fill the chasm. It would seem to be only a matter of time until we start singing and chanting for our favourites while hurling abuse and insults against opposing chefs!
As things stand about the only scarce live sporting morsel to cling onto is that it seems as if the NRL Australian Rugby League is going to go ahead behind closed doors for this weekend, although surely it can only be a matter of time until that joins the rest of the sporting universe in limbo.
As someone who has spent the best part of the last four years blogging about all matters football, the absence of any matches whatsoever poses something of a challenge to say the very least. However as much for my own sanity as anything else I am intending to try and keep a routine of weekly blog posts going. How these may take shape I am not 100% sure yet but I am hoping to draw upon an extensive back catalogue of thoughts and musings on football history, the evolution of the game, the great teams, players, matches and tournaments.
Of course anyone who wants to join me is more than welcome, Football Nerd has always been intended to be an open church with all contributions welcome, so of you find yourself climbing the walls over the coming weeks deprived of our beloved game submit your contributions to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Good luck, stay safe and at some point we will emerge on the other side and football will be back!