• Adam Stubbings

Musings from the South Stand #8: Can We Move Forward Now?

Mercifully, a decision has been made. How we measure that mercy and how much people from different clubs disagree with that notion entirely is now irrelevant. On Tuesday, clubs in Leagues One and Two voted to curtail the 2019/20 season without completing any more games (except for the Play Offs) with the final standings determined on an unweighted Points-Per-Game ratio.

After weeks and weeks of debate that devolved into petty arguments in some quarters, we can all finally start to look ahead to the future. Uncertainty remains over how we all approach those next steps, but we can now at least put this strange campaign to bed.

More Bold Decisions Needed

For Doncaster Rovers, the various potential solutions to dealing with the matter of finishing 2019/20 didn’t make a great deal of difference. At the point of suspension, Rovers were on the outside looking in as far as the Play-Off picture was concerned and the various mathematical proposals all tended to leave us in 9th place, with only the briefly-mooted “expanded Play-Offs” idea put forward by teams worried they were going to miss out offering a chance to continue.

In truth, promotion this season would probably have come too soon for the young side being developed by Darren Moore. He would have wanted to carry on and try to break into that top six of course but there has to be an acceptance that we don’t lose out too badly as a result of the curtailment, especially when you look at Tranmere and Stevenage. What’s done is done, and we should say that both Coventry and Rotherham performed superbly this season and can hardly be begrudged their promotion in the circumstances.

Rovers are fortunate in that sense that, for once, we were not heavily involved in either the promotion or relegation picture by the time football was suspended. It is a real shame that we won’t get to see a host of players turn out in the hoops again – it has already been confirmed that the six loan players have gone back to their parent clubs and our contract Retained List will surely follow in the coming days – but the abrupt nature of change is part and parcel of lower league football and it is time for the wheels to begin turning again now.

The Futility of Bluster

Darragh MacAnthony and his ilk can complain all they like, it matters not. There is a serious discussion to be had about the EFL’s overall handling of the situation and, not for the first time, the processes of decision-making (or lack thereof) in the organisation are being called into question, but it all feels a little pointless at this stage to bang the drum about how ineffective as a governing body or “competition organiser” the EFL actually is.

The dust will settle on another controversial period in its history, and the member clubs will swiftly go back to focusing on their own individual concerns. They have every right to do that and if there is even more of a “fend for ourselves” mentality going forward, it should come as no surprise. Until a root-and-branch system reform of the English leagues’ governance is undertaken then nothing substantial will change, it eould unfortunately seem.

This is as tough a time as a collective that EFL clubs have faced in decades – probably since World War Two – and so it will take a big effort to get back to a semblance of how things were before Covid-19 came along and ground everything to a halt. Gavin Baldwin and the directors of Doncaster Rovers will now be hard at work determining just how severely the loss of revenue will affect the playing side before Darren Moore can mobilise and overhaul his squad.

Adjusting To A New Normal

Squads will inevitably be smaller and feature players on more modest wages right across the leagues. It may mean the club can hold onto its prize assets a while longer since purse-strings will be tightened accordingly at bigger clubs too, and the long contracts handed out to Ben Whiteman and Tom Anderson a few months ago make them even more valuable commodities in a reshaped transfer market.

It will also mean priorities may lie elsewhere for many clubs than making big signings, and that includes Rovers. Our propensity to go into the loan market and focus on younger prospects in recent years may be a benefit now as Darren and his staff look to assemble a competitive side for 2020/21. There is a solid starting base as we outlined in our look at the state of the squad a couple of weeks ago but with Rovers not exactly boasting one of the largest budgets in League One in ordinary circumstances, expectations may have to be tempered for a little while as the footballing world realigns.

It’s safe to say we’ll all be grateful just to see our club playing games again regardless how good the team is, following a somewhat humbling period of uncertainty which is not quite over yet. The fact that the clubs have finally come to a consensus on how to conclude this season means everyone can start looking ahead and put their energies into getting through to the other side of this bizarre experience.