Musings from the South Stand #6: The End Isn't Near
The first week of May is usually a fruitful one for football writers. The season comes to an end with a guarantee of drama up and down the leagues, the time comes to reflect on a long season’s efforts and the excitement of looking to the future begins.
Unfortunately, there is nothing “usual” about the time we’re living in today. Instead of a sunny knees-up by the sea as Rovers finished off their season at Blackpool, this weekend passed without any football at all for the eighth straight week, and the only topic dominating football news pages is the complicated issue of when the sport will resume at all.
At the point in which football was suspended due to the Covid-19 crisis, Rovers had ten league games left to play in what was an already truncated 44-game campaign (owing to the expulsion of Bury back in August) with designs on mounting a late push for the Play-Offs. January’s rejuvenation of the squad’s attacking ranks put Darren Moore’s side in good stead to make a good go of it, but now we may never know how far that group of players could go.
Even if the powers that be get football going again in order to complete the 2019/20 season, it will not be the same as it would have been. It may be sunnier over Lakeside when the games are played, but with very little prospect of supporters being present for them, that run of matches will take on a uniquely odd feel and there is a growing sense that the sporting integrity of the campaign is now lost to all clubs.
Whilst I am completely against voiding the season – as was hastily done to all English leagues below the National North & South – accepting that the last dozen or so games cannot be played to bring things to a fair conclusion is perhaps the next step that the FA, Premier League and EFL should come to. Then plans can begin in earnest for next season, however different that may have to look to get the sport through to the other side of this pandemic.
Keeping the tables as they are or utilising Points-Per-Game, whilst not perfect, would maintain some form of sporting merit to the league’s conclusory standings. The best solution I can find is to just get rid of relegation for this campaign and promote the teams in the top two/three positions of each division. A temporarily bigger Premier League is no terrible thing, nor is granting teams who performed the best throughout the 2019/20 season a just reward.
Teams like Bolton, Southend and Stevenage would be saved from almost certain relegation but is this not an acceptable compromise to allow the league’s progress to count for something? If nobody is promoted, or the standings voided completely, it surely renders the entire effort and outlay of what amounts to thousands of people over the preceding months pointless. It would be harsh on very few teams, compared to the other mooted solutions, and would vitally protect the health of all those involved in football at a time where the path out of the pandemic remains uncertain for the entire world.
It is a blessing of sorts that Rovers found themselves on the outside looking in as far as this season’s promotion race. Imagine being in Coventry or Rotherham’s position right now, wondering if a genuine shot at promotion has been completely taken away by something out of everyone’s control. Whatever solution is come to, the truth is that Doncaster Rovers will not lose out in terms of sporting merit.
I’m purposefully avoiding getting into the gritty details of how clubs survive financially, as I’m simply not well versed enough to comment. We as a fanbase can only hope that the club has the ability to see this period through and remain in business, and hope that all clubs up and down the pyramid can do the same. Redressing the balance of money in football is something that needs to be on the agenda during and after Covid-19, but governing bodies have thus far shown a lack of ability (or is it willingness?) to get the ball rolling.
So much is uncertain, but one thing I know for sure is that when this pandemic does subside and people can intermingle freely again, football stadiums are going to be the best place to be. The camaraderie will surely be stronger than ever, the rollercoaster of emotions more pronounced than before – the thought of being able to cheer on Rovers again is something that is definitely getting me through these long, listless days.
Thoughts of inflatable palm trees and sunglasses in the away end at Bloomfield Road initially made me rue what we’ve missed out on, but now the notion reminds me that we will have those days again, we just don’t know when they’ll be. Football will return, it will in time get back to what we love it for, and we’ll all be grateful for it. Let’s get through in one piece so we can all raise a glass to our beloved club once again.