Q&A: Tom Hancock on Lockdown, League One and his Chairboys
Life continues without football, so as we move past the final weekend of the original season schedule, we sit down with another of our regular contributors to get their thoughts on the ongoing situation.
Today we speak to Tom Hancock, Wycombe Wanderers fan and Editor of Chairboys Central, to get his thoughts on how the pandemic is affecting him, his club and the sport as a whole.
ITEN: This weekend should have been the last in the 2019/20 season, instead we have no idea if or when the season will be finished. What do you think is the best solution for clubs in the EFL and beyond?
Tom: In an ideal world, you'd complete this season whenever it's safe to do so - but clearly nothing about the current situation is ideal. Even if someone could see into the future and tell us we'll be good to go again in, say, October, I'm pretty sure you can't forcibly extend a player's contract.
Next season is almost certainly going to be disrupted - I find it very hard to believe, even behind closed doors, that we'll be playing to a normal schedule - and this apparent prioritisation of it by some is ridiculous, quite frankly, but realistically I think you have to draw a line under the current one to give everyone a degree of certainty.
I don't think we should void anything, but I'm also not particularly keen on going to points-per-game as that's not truly fair - even though it would benefit Wycombe if the leaked EFL 'plans' are anything to go by. Actually, everyone should just listen to the clip allegedly from Alex Rodman (Bristol Rovers' PFA rep) as, unless someone's on an incredibly convincing wind-up, it seems like he's revealed what's likely to happen unless there's enough testing for football without taking it away from where it's really needed.
As you say, the Points-Per-Game (PPG) option would actually benefit Wycombe, moving them from 8th to 3rd. Do you think the Chairboys deserve a crack at promotion considering the success the team had during this campaign?
Yeah, PPG with three going up would see us take the final promotion spot by 0.02 points from Oxford, Pompey and Fleetwood. At the end of the day, I think we're at the stage - barring a miracle - where it's either void or do that. There would always be an asterisk against our promotion, but it would definitely be deserved based on the games we've played, which is obviously all we've got to work with.
It would be unbelievable, and some fans who remember the 1994/95 season (of which I'm not one!) will say it would be justice done for missing out then due to the pyramid restructure. We finished three points outside the Division 2 play-offs - which covered 2nd to 5th - and it's generally held that we'd have won them, such was our track record in knockout football under Martin O'Neill. Despite the asterisk, it would be our most historic promotion ever.
As far as Wycombe are concerned, do you think the club will be able to come out the other side of this inactive period okay?
I was talking about this with someone the other day and they said one way of potentially looking at it is that we're not in a financial hole like some clubs are as our takeover went through just in time (to avoid being scuppered by the pandemic). We're not saddled with debt and we have an immeasurably smaller budget than, say, Sunderland. This may be an overly simplistic way of looking at it, but in theory, we won't have to cut back as much as some of the bigger and more, for want of a better word, reckless clubs.
We've achieved so much on a shoestring and could end up getting even closer to those sides in the coming seasons. Also, just going by how calmly and reassuringly Rob (Couhig, Wycombe chairman) has spoken about the crisis so far, I'm confident that we're in very safe hands.
That said, football - not least at our level - will need financial support beyond the advance of solidarity payments. This is also exactly the right time to be discussing measures such as a salary cap - and redressing the financial imbalance in general. If the game doesn't see in this crisis an opportunity for introspection and wide-sweeping change, I don't know if it's ever going to.
Which teams and players have impressed you most in League One this season up to press?
Coventry, Peterborough and Oxford. We have a 100% losing record against Coventry in the league and were abysmal in losing 4-1 at home to them just after Christmas, but they really were excellent and would have strolled to the title had the season continued.
We faced Posh either side of their poor spell and, while we came from 2-0 and 3-2 down to draw the home meeting, had no chance at their place after going down to ten men after only 21 minutes.
At Oxford in the last game before Christmas, we also went down to ten around the same sort of time and while we only lost 1-0, their quality in both the attacking and defensive departments was plain to see and they would have put more past us had they not come into the game off the back of their League Cup tie with Man City.
As for players, Ivan Toney, who will be banging in the goals in the Championship next season. Rob Dickie has been a rock at the back for Oxford and absolutely superb on the ball. They are the two who immediately come to mind for me and have made me instantly go ‘he's too good for this division’.
Doncaster Rovers and Wycombe split wins this season. From what you’ve seen of Rovers, which players stand out?
I wasn't at the away game and the home game turned into a bit of a strange one because of the sending off, but I just think it's incredible how James Coppinger still plays such an integral role at 39. We've got our fair share of veteran campaigners ourselves, but I genuinely wish we had him in our ranks. In the words of Mike Bassett, “if you're old enough you're good enough”.
Football is taking some flack at the moment for wanting to get the sport going again as soon as possible. Do you feel the plans are reasonable or should we be holding off and accepting sport isn’t near the top of the priority list?
Football wanting to find a solution is the same as any industry or business wanting to. It's got to be done and working hard on that and acknowledging the severity of the overall situation are not mutually exclusive. I still think it's optimistic to be able to play out the remaining fixtures this summer, and the Premier League seem to have got a little bit ahead of themselves on that front, but you've got to have a contingency plan.
At the end of the day, nothing will get the green light until it's safe, so it's not as though the powers that be are going to stick two fingers up at the current restrictions and plough on.
Finally, what are you most looking forward to about football returning, whenever that may be?
Frankly, getting my life back!