Cards on the table time here: for all the enjoyment to be had in delving into the retro football archives and reminiscing in football nostalgia, I truly and deeply miss football. The way that it neatly gives you an almost parallel reality to normal life (whatever that means at the moment!) and gives us football obsessives a structure, routine and schedule to our lives.
As I have written on these pages before I desperately want football to come back even more so because that would mean life might be progressing towards some kind of normality, but also to sate my own obsessive appetite for the game that we all love. We have to believe that football will return at some point in the future, but it is worth considering that it may be very different from the game that we had to pause due to the Coronavirus pandemic.
The first issue to deal with will be how we finish the 2019/20 season? It seems to be generally accepted that simply calling the current campaign null and void isn’t really a viable option. If the season was simply wiped from the record books it is likely that a large proportion of clubs would look to reduce their ongoing expenditure by releasing any player they do not want to keep, to get them off the payroll and to try to reduce the financial hit that they are inevitably going to take without their usual sources of income from gate receipts but more significantly broadcasting payments. Clubs may try to argue that due to unforeseen circumstances players are unable to fulfil their contracts and that therefore the players cannot be paid. The move for pay-cuts at so many football clubs may well be the first indication of this as a strategy.
Secondly player contracts tend to be incentivised with bonuses for finishing position, qualifying for Europe, promotion, trophy wins etc. It is also fairly common practice for players on loan to be paid for based on the number of appearances they make and/or to pay a loan fee. There would need to be a significant amount of negotiation between loaning and loanee clubs to even try to begin to unpick that.
Already we are starting to see clubs losing the majority of their income through not being able to play matches, however for all but the mega-rich who could potentially be supported from the coffers of their beyond wealthy owners there will be no way to cover the loss of income if the remaining matches that have been planned for don’t take place.
Another proposal that has been doing the rounds is that a premature end is brought to the campaign with the champions, European qualifiers, promotion and relegation all decided by where teams currently sit in the table. However we have already seen in just the last few days the issues that have been thrown up by the vote (once Dundee finally got theirs in!) by Scottish clubs to pass the Scottish Professional Football League’s resolution to terminate the season below the Premier League. A decision that effectively declared Dundee United, Raith Rovers and Cove Rangers champions of their respective divisions and promoted, with Partick Thistle and Stranraer harshly relegated with the former having decided against legal action in order to try and protect their financial future. It remains to be seen whether this will now be extended to the top division with Celtic crowned champions for the ninth consecutive season (given they sit 13 points clear currently that feels easier to accept) and Hearts relegated despite trailing Hamilton Academical by just four points.
The Premier League clubs met this morning to discuss how to end the Premier League season and decided unanimously that the 2019/20 season should be completed no matter how long it takes, which means there is now no longer a cut off point of the 30th of June.
The English Football League also today issued an open letter to supporters which clarified only the amount of uncertainty that still exists about how football might still resume and more importantly when. The one thing it did reiterate was the EFL’s goal of finding a way to conclude the season and keep the respective competitions’ integrity.
UEFA are reportedly working on proposals to complete the Champions League in a week-long mini-tournament with the Final in Istanbul on the 29th of August, but then we have long since needed any convincing that all they care about is money. As those of us who were forced to drag ourselves all the way to Baku last season can attest!
If we are to keep the hope/belief that the season will be finished off it would seem highly likely that to do so would mean at least some, if not all, remaining games being played behind closed doors, a concept which in itself raises a myriad of questions and challenges. In Germany some Bundesliga clubs went back to training this week with a view to the season re-starting sometime in late May but in all likelihood without any fans in the stadium. As good as that might sound to all of us starved of our regular football fix how realistic is it to think that it will work?
In a sobering but nonetheless realistic article in Sports Illustrated as cited by Arseblog earlier this week (https://www.si.com/mlb/2020/04/10/sports-arent-coming-back-soon) it was suggested that there are several considerations that may render the completion of sporting competitions even in empty arenas in condensed campus/ bubble / biodome style arrangements where all matches are played at the same venue with the players quarantined and shuttled between living accommodation and stadium, less feasible than it might seem.
The starting point for getting a quarantined sports league up and running would be the necessity to isolate absolutely everyone, not just the players but also: the coaching staff, officials, TV crews, commentators, reporters, stadium staff, medical staff, accommodation staff etc etc., who will be accessing the stadium for the regulation two weeks before commencement could even be considered. Not to mention the fact that it would seem a poor and distasteful use of already stretched at best medical resources in case a player got injured.
No one would be allowed in or out of the protected environment and staff would need to be recompensed for a period of weeks away from their family, if they could be convinced they wanted to be involved. Testing, such an issue here in the UK, would need to be conducted on a very regular basis and one wonders how this could be achieved when we can’t currently test enough NHS frontline staff, care workers or keyworkers?
Even if all the regulatory protocols and procedures are followed to the absolute letter there is still the risk that anyone delivering anything into the bubble could introduce the virus and what would then happen? Isolation for all involved for a further two weeks?
As much as we desperately want it to come back as soon as possible, if only on our screens as a sign of progress in tackling the virus, we might still be quite some time away from that. For now those of us in the UK may have to content ourselves with PDA Darts’ Home Tour for our competitive sporting action.