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October 2020
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Gradually the mood in the League is changing but the thinking’s hardly begun

By Tony Attwood

We began with total denial.  With the transfer window still months away the names of players – often very expensive players – that Arsenal were going to buy started to pop up.  The interruption to games was seen as a temporary inconvenience.  Nothing to worry about.  Nothing to bother the English clubs.

Then it was a case of we would be back soon, along with more and more players Arsenal were going to buy.

After that, as the rest of Europe started to debate lockdowns, ghost games, and league abandonments, there was a unified turning of the back on what the rest of football was saying, as plans for a restart in May were laid, and then June.  Talk of playing the games at two grounds in the north-west, or maybe at Wembley came to the fore… and then went away.

Slowly it became clear, nothing was going to happen, nothing was being agreed.  In Scotland there was the farce of the vote with Dundee voting and not voting while Rangers threaten legal action, plus more and more transfer news.

Even as it became clear that virtually all the clubs save a very few such as Manchester United, Manchester City and Chelsea (and now quite possibly Newcastle) were going to run into financial difficulties so the stories continued.  Arsenal are now linked with over 50 players for next season.

But slowly, very very slowly, the message is creeping out, for the Guardian today reports “concerns ­growing over the feasibility of a return even behind closed doors.”   David Moyes is reported as saying, “The deeper and deeper you look the harder you feel it is to get it up running again.”   And that’s before anyone has picked up on the obvious problem of how you stop fans gathering around the stadium when a ghost game is being played.

We are now being told that the League has decided not to start again until there is sufficient capacity for Covid-19 testing and where there are sufficient plans on how to minimise the risk of infection during a match.

And this in a country in which doctors, nurses, hospital staff and other health workers are not able to get either the tests they need to keep them safe, or the protective equipment that is also essential.

Indeed, what exactly would the country make of testing kits being diverted to footballers while nurses were left exposed to the virus?

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Also it is becoming clear that a lot of clubs – even Premier League clubs – are anxious to get players whose contracts are ending, off their books on 30 June.  Extending the season will mean they can’t.

Clubs being relegated have clauses in their player contracts that reduces the players’ wages from the moment that relegation is confirmed – not the end of the season – and the clubs down the bottom do not fancy paying out high wage bills into June or even longer.

And indeed not all clubs fancy playing in June / July and then starting up again in September, especially if they have smaller squads and not many youngsters ready to step up.

And now, to show just how far realism has returned, there are questions being asked about players who are unhappy with the arrangements – all of which of course fall outside the contract.  Or a player from club A who is lined up to move to Club B, but finds himself selected to play for A against B because the season is extended.

Such things are possible, because no one is talking about changing the transfer window; indeed such a change looks extremely unlikely.

As I say, these issues are being discussed in the background now, but as far as I can tell, there are no talks going on between the clubs on topics like this – and undoubtedly many more that I have missed.

Which is really my main point.  The discussions on all these difficult topics have not yet even begun.  And when they do begin, it is going to take months for them to be resolved.   By which time someone might remember the fact that the FA are hoping to play some international games.

The European Championship matches scheduled for June have been postponed – but they will have to be played at some stage.  And looking further ahead we have Uefa Nations League matches scheduled at the start of September.   What’s going to happen to those?

It does seem people have hardly begun to think about the broader picture yet.

6 comments to Gradually the mood in the League is changing but the thinking’s hardly begun

  • Zedsaunt

    The idea that football as a spectacle, taking place at a venue which exists in a physical place with streets and communities around it, is going to just resume is absolute nonsense.

    What happens if the public, in the areas fans have to travel through to get to the ground, demand each visiting fan is virus free?

    What happens inside the ground, a perfect goal scored, the absolute point of football, the goal of your dreams, as perfect as you will ever see, every affirmation of why you love the game, the club, the player, the beauty, why you love the why of football, 30,000 people rising as one, spluttering a shower of spit over each other?

    Some serious thinking needed. Thank you for the articles.

  • Nitram

    Zedsaunt

    What happens inside the ground, a perfect goal scored, the absolute point of football, the goal of your dreams, as perfect as you will ever see, every affirmation of why you love the game, the club, the player, the beauty…..

    I thought that goal had already been scored:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=odxh_ZEUPlQ

    Best goal I’ve ever seen.

    But you are right. I cant see football getting going for months.

  • Zedsaunt

    Tell me why I knew it somehow!

    It was a beauty, only bettered by, I can’t think.

    But, you and I and fans know, every goal will get us on our feet…and that will be risky. So the assumption that everything goes back to what it was, that football is outside the consequences of this pandemic, well, that has to be jettisoned.

  • Kenward Garg

    Call the season, null and void. Play the community shield and open up the grounds for the first day of the season. Those who are in fear of a virus that has so far not exceeded deaths prior to this; stay at home. For those who wish to “risk” it: go and watch the game. The rest will follow because they always follow the ”brave”.

  • Surely crowds will not be possible until pandemic is over and no one is diagnosed with it.

    Even September is optimistic.

    Playing behind closed doors might be possible if the players are fully isolated, but the clubs will not survive without the gate money.

    Maybe we are seeing the end of public sport as we know it.

  • Zedsaunt

    ”Playing behind closed doors might be possible if the players are fully isolated, but the clubs will not survive without the gate money.”

    You cannot have a ”contact sport” and ”social distancing” in the same sentence, let alone on a pitch.

    Are players, refs, the managerial crew, to be tested for the virus before the game and then after the game?

    The present is a minefield. Reality before Covid-19 will not return. What do we do? What can we do?