Sad Context

The Corvid-19 death rate in the UK is already over the average attendances last season of six Premier League clubs. Based on current trends, by the end of this month, it will be edging towards the Premier League’s average attendance last season of 38,168.

The prospect of the Premier League playing matches behind closed doors in neutral stadiums would present people with a startling visualisation of the loss the country has suffered due to the pandemic.

From the Premier League Shareholders meeting last week, it is clear – at least according to the press – that the Premier League is intent on trying to resume the 2019/20 season schedule (despite the shareholders unanimously agreeing to curtail the 2019/20 Academy Games Programme).

The key factor will be the government guidance that is expected this forthcoming Thursday, when a clearer picture of how the lockdown will be transitioned from, will be presented.

Motivations?

While the Premier League are obviously playing the room in the last statement they issued (see below), by saying that their thoughts were with all those directly affected by the virus and the Premier League’s priority is ‘the health and safety of players, coaches, managers, club staff, supporters and the wider community’, their thinking out aloud over how to complete the season flies in the face of this.

In the current climate, any plan seems to be a risk to health, exemplified by all the measures they are talking they would need to implement – from regular testing to players being quarantined in hotel camps until the season is complete.

Also, Imagine the scenario of watching teams play against the background of a pandemic, which may have a few more waves up its sleeve. From the point of a player’s wages, it would suddenly have an element of Formula One, where danger money is essentially factored into their huge wages.

The experience of watching football would suddenly have a hint of dystopian films like The Running Man or The Hunger Games, where the competitors risk their wellbeing for the entertainment of a television/screen audience.

Integrity Double Speak

The Premier League’s statement mentions their commitment to ‘maintaining integrity of the competition’, but it is now impossible to save the 2019/20 season in that sense, unless it is played out in the exact same conditions it started under.

The talk of playing behind-closed-doors and on neutral grounds at this stage, completely undermines the integrity of the league format. For example, if your team has already played Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United, away from home, with the disadvantage of playing in their own stadiums in front of their partisan crowds, in the return fixture, your team now doesn’t share the same advantages.

It causes an imbalance to the league and isn’t fair. It’s just not cricket football.

If the 2020/21 plays out behind closed doors in ghost games or even across neutral stadiums, then at least it will be the same for all teams from the off. After all, according to the FA chairman, Greg Clarke, “it’s hard to foresee crowds of fans returning to matches any time soon.”

Behind the scenes, the feeling is the priority must be to make sure the 2020/21 season is a ‘clean season’, with as little domino affect from this current season. If you push back the 2020/21 season, then suddenly you’re compromising potentially two or three other seasons too.

Solutions

If the settled upon solution is to void the season, which would then at least be evidence that health is the main issue, it’s then just a matter of settling what happens in terms of season’s merit – European places, relegation etc.

Unless something has mathematically been achieved already, then it’s going to be difficult to enforce promotions, relegation and European places unopposed. You could argue that if this season’s European tournaments get voided, then those who qualified for them last season, should get a second chance in 2020/21. If no team achieved anything mathematically, then a voided 2019/20 season, could be just that – void.

In the example of the French, Belgium and Dutch leagues, ending a season hasn’t voided it in the strictest of senses. League titles have still been granted, even if the relegation and European places haven’t been completely sorted out yet across all those leagues.

Due to the aforementioned imbalance to the Premier League that unfinished fixtures bring, a points per games (PPG) calculation doesn’t work out to be a fair way of determining a league.

In terms of what is still at stake in the Premier League with games in hands, if you could just stage Villa vs Sheffield United, one of the two games in hands due to the League Cup final (Manchester City vs Arsenal would be the other), you would settle both the European places and relegation places more distinctly and satisfactorily than PPG .

But, in principle, that game is only 100% fair in context of a league season, if it’s played at Villa Park with a proper crowd. That’s not going to happen anytime soon though.

While most clubs would be open to compromise in the search of solutions, should a club really be worse off than how they started the season, if nothing has been settled mathematically this season?

If the decision is made to continue the 2019/20 season this year, it will be mainly to fulfil the alleged three-quarters of a billion pounds that contractually would have to be paid back to live TV rights-holders Sky and BT. That is understandable and you can understand the urgency in trying to honour such contracts.

If the decision was solely based on health issues and combating the virus, you void the season, full-stop, and turn your thoughts to setting up 2020/21.

So, with that said, if the continuation of this current season is a business decision, then in terms of Aston Villa, they should protect their own business interests (legally, if necessary) and not accept anything that would unfairly increase their chances of relegation and the resulting huge loss of earnings.

Playing the rest of the 2019/20 season in empty neutral venues is a big no-no in terms of that.

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Premier League Statement

Premier League Shareholders today, clubs discussed possible steps towards planning to resume the 2019/20 season, when it is safe and appropriate to do so.

It was reiterated that the thoughts of all are with those directly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Furthermore, the Premier League’s priority is the health and safety of players, coaches, managers, club staff, supporters and the wider community. 

The League and clubs are considering the first tentative moves forward and will only return to training and playing with Government guidance, under expert medical advice and after consultation with players and managers. 

The League welcomed the creation of the Government medical working group for a return of elite sport, which met for the first time this morning. 

No decisions were taken at today’s Shareholders’ meeting and clubs exchanged views on the information provided regarding Project Restart. 

It was agreed that the PFA, LMA, players and managers are key to this process and will be further consulted. 

The clubs reconfirmed their commitment to finishing the 2019/20 season, maintaining integrity of the competition and welcomed the Government’s support.

To Void Or Not to Void discussed on the podcast

3 COMMENTS

  1. I think the Premier League, once it decided to change the rules of it’s tournament,lost it’s integrity.

    One of the rules of the Premier league states that:
    “The league takes place between August and May and involves the teams playing each other HOME AND AWAY across the season, a total of 380 matches”.

    Once clubs can’t play their 19 games at home and 19 games away it becomes an unfair tournament and has lost it’s impartiality.

    I am looking at it from a Villa supporters point of view, Villa have 6 games to play at home where they have aquired 2 thirds of their points so having to play all the remaining 10 theoretically away from home is a big disadvantage.

    West Ham however have only 3 home games left and 6 away so they will not suffer such a great disadvantage.

    I think the premier League is just conscious of the money and doesn’t even consider the unfairness of playing behind doors and at neutral venues.

    • ‘Integrity of competition’ has been double speak from the off. The neutral ground option is purely to service the TV broadcasters with product. Home or away in an empty stadium doesn’t matter to them. As you say, the league is dead as a concept when it can’t offer up a competition that is equal to all. Playing home and away is the core principle of the English football league format. If you can’t do that, you have to void it, as the ‘sporting element’ of the concept has gone.

  2. Commitment to finishing the season is one thing but the health and safety of the players and everyone concerned should be the overriding priority, if continuing with the season results in just one single death it will be travesty, so come on use common sense I don’t care how it’s done or about how it leaves our club or other clubs but we must not play this season out, take a hint from the French they scrapped their leagues a couple of weeks ago and in my opinion rightly so, Health before Money every time. It’s truly rediculous to even think about it if one player gets infected the whole team will have to immediately self isolate and where does that leave the league. It’s nuts to even consider it.

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