Musings from the South Stand #4: The Beautiful Game On Hold
Where do we go from here? A global pandemic has put paid to football for the time being and with it, questions abound as to what will happen with our wonderful sport.
The Waiting Game Begins
This morning’s announcement that all matches will be suspended until 3rd April comes as no surprise after the rapidly escalating concern over the spread of coronavirus, with almost all sporting events cancelled for the foreseeable future and countries universally putting measures in place to try and curb the spread of this new virus.
Initially, reports were that things in Britain were to carry on as normal but the news last night of positive coronavirus cases in players and personnel at Premier League clubs, including Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta and Chelsea forward Callum Hudson-Odoi necessitated a change in that stance and now the season is on hold.
This is without question the biggest disruption to the sport on a massive scale in decades, possibly since World War II, leaving everyone from clubs and fans to organisers and stakeholders wondering what comes next, drifting in unchartered waters.
What we do know is that there will be no games for the next three weeks, but with expectations in the medical community suggesting coronavirus will continue to take hold before peaking around May time, it seems unlikely at this stage that we will be back in football stadiums a month from now.
For reasons known only to themselves, Doncaster Rovers are still encouraging ticket sales for games after the 3rd April date despite this information so fans optimistic that they will be sat watching local derbies with Rotherham and Lincoln around Easter can purchase tickets for those games if they wish, but this is surely inadvisable.
Finishing The Season
Completing the 2019/20 season will be a key issue for football organisations to sort out when they meet. The FA, Premier League and EFL must all come together to work this out, with so much riding on the outcome of league competitions which are already well on their way to the finish line.
It appears highly likely that the European Championships scheduled for this summer will be pushed back a year, giving the domestic game an opportunity to complete the dozen or so games that remain in this campaign if coronavirus is indeed tailing off by June or July. Whilst this obviously would lead to a knock-on forcing subsequent seasons to begin and end at unconventional times, it seems the most reasonable solution proposed so far.
Who wouldn’t love more summer football? Better weather means better atmosphere and more opportunities to socialise around games – once the virus has dissipated of course – and the camaraderie generated by being able to return from this forced exile of sport could lead to some wonderful moments.
For now, this is not remotely a priority as health and well-being take precedence. Solutions though will need to be found, and voiding this season or taking the current tables as final would create a minefield of problems. Outside of Liverpool winning the Premier League and both Southend and Bolton going down from League One, none of the permutations up and down the divisions are really settled.
Time On Our Hands
Whichever route the governing bodies decide to take, we must accept that this could be a long haul. Keeping calm and carrying on may not be advice we can heed in our daily lives, so as people step up their precautions and try to plot a way through this global pandemic, the world of sport pauses to take stock.
Clubs will hopefully be protected against the loss of revenue as far as they can, with this crisis surely representing the perfect time for the elites of world football to show solidarity with their smaller brethren who help keep their gravy train rolling. Manchester City, Liverpool and Real Madrid aren’t going to go bust but teams at Rovers’ level and below might, meaning something must be done to keep things ticking over.
Our Saturdays will be spent away from the beautiful game, but that doesn’t mean football fans should step away from this community. Let’s use this enforced break to reflect on what we love about the game, look ahead to its return and accept that we are experiencing something unlike anything most living today never have before.
This is a scary moment, but we can get through it. Before you know it we’ll be back on the terraces singing about Molly Malone’s wheelbarrow and Jonny Taylor being a red. We can’t wait.