The Little Londoner: COVID-19 and English football

This is a column that no one wants to write — my hand is almost forced simply due to the utter lack of content. However, a bevy of swirling topics of conversation looms in a football world that seems to have no long term answers to (or any lasting longer than a week). 

Consider this a primer on such debates for English football. 

Rio Ferdinand says void the season 

No, former Manchester United center-half Rio Ferdinand did not make this statement simply to shade anxious Liverpool supporters. Every time the English Football Association (FA) proposes a plan to reschedule a new date to resume play, the government throws a corona-level top-corner knuckler to divert the plan.

Remember, aside from the ones with full-scale gyms in their basements, many players are struggling to stay fit. How then can one expect them to miraculously play every two to three days to finish the season?

With surely no football to be played in England until June at the earliest, the guessing game of pushing the league further back and back will eventually just lead into the start of the 2020-21 season. Will fans be allowed into stadiums? How will the summer transfer window operate? These are questions everyone agrees should be left up in the air. 

There are some issues, however, that many have more direct opinions about, such as…

How to deal with relegation, promotion and European places

Voiding the season leaves no clear answer to how the league will look for next season. If the league is unable to continue, should the current table be used as all-determining? Should the table from around Christmas (the mid-season mark, when everyone has played everyone once) be considered to balance the schedule?

If the season does continue but under the premise that certain fixtures will be dropped, will there be a playoff for the relegation and European spots? Either way, expect a legal battle to ensue from whichever parties get the short end of the stick. One has to really feel for a club like Sheffield United, which is having its most successful season in history and may not be able to compete for a Champions League spot. 

Meanwhile, further up the table…

Maybe Rio was trolling

A voided season means Liverpool would not be crowned champions. Liverpool currently holds a 25 point lead at the top and could clinch the league with just two wins in their last nine games — FiveThirtyEight gives them a >99% chance. Likely, the FA will put out a special committee that will declare Liverpool as champions of England, even if the season is abandoned. The biggest question perhaps is how big the attached asterisk will loom in the eyes of rivals and trolls. 

Financial implications

The Premier League will lose income from the cancellation of games, more so due to the lack of television revenue than from gate receipts. For clubs further down England’s footballing pyramid, gate receipts are the primary drivers of income and will face deadly consequences. 

Many smaller English clubs pay players and employees wages that exceed their revenues; thus, what are these clubs to do when this anticipated revenue is not coming in? Bury FC had existed as a professional club since 1885 until falling into liquidity in the fall due to a lack of funds. Something tells me that it may not be the last…


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