Wigan Athletic: The 12th Man
Our panel of Latics experts give their thoughts on whether the rest of the EFL season being played behind closed doors...
So 56 days to complete all league and play off matches. It’s an achievable plan on paper, but football should only return when it is safe to do so and, at the moment, that doesn’t seem something that’s on the horizon. The safety of the players, staff and supporters must be the number one priority for all concerned. However, the longer this situation goes on the more chance there is that football clubs will have to shut down as a result of the loss of income, and that needs to be taken into consideration too. There’s several factors that have to be thought of, some players have contracts that expire on June 30, TV deals have been arranged and contracts signed, money for season tickets has been paid by supporters and fines paid by clubs to the EFL and FA throughout the season. Extending the season is a potential option, and if this impacts the 2020/2021 season, then it offers the football governing bodies a chance to be creative for a season and try something new so that the Euros next year can go ahead as planned and then look for a normal league schedule to return in the 2021/2022 season. It’s an incredibly hard situation for the EFL, Premier League, UEFA and FIFA to find themselves in because, as I’ve said already, safety must be the main concern. You would hope and pray that come June when the EFL are planning on getting games started again, we’re all in a much better situation than we are now with the virus, and the proposed plans by the EFL can go ahead. If we’re not and we’re all still on lockdown, then there has to be a plan B, football’s not worth the risk when there’s lives at stake.
So the season could be played out after all. No doubt there’s been a lot of head scratching at EFL towers. However, for me, the remaining fixtures have to be completed at some point. To strike a line through 80 per cent of the season would generate so many more questions and financial implications and let’s face it money rules in this game now. What would happen with players bonus payments, season ticket refunds, sponsorship refunds, prize money and TV revenue? Clubs with promotion aspirations would no doubt have legal challenges for losses. All in all the evil that is money is the issue. For that reason when it’s safe to do so the season should be played out. As for impact on us, the fans. It would be disappointing to have the games behind closed doors and don’t think this should happen. Until government restrictions are fully lifted football should wait. There would no doubt be an element of supporters who still turn up at stadiums posing risk and draw on vital NHS and police resources. The show must go on but only when things return to “normal”. There’s more to life than football.
So the EFL have set out a 56 day plan to finish the season behind closed doors. Well from a personal point of view I’m already in close season mode so not really that bothered, but I can see why from a financial point with TV contracts and sponsorship the EFL and clubs want to get back playing. Is playing behind closed doors the answer what I saw from the couple of Europa League games they looked like training sessions. One issue that does bother me is that all EFL matches have to have an ambulance and paramedics at the ground so with 71 EFL clubs that’s 35 games in a weekend playing behind closed doors would say we are not totally over the virus can we really expect football to take 35 ambulances and their crews off the streets at this time. Stay safe people.
The world is in the middle of a pandemic and right now football seems to be the last thing on everyone’s mind, apart from those directly involved in it. The acute “cliff edge” situation of professional football and it’s finances could not be any clearer could it? Most fans I have spoken to recently couldn’t really give two hoots about the season right now. They, of course, care deeply about the club, but there is so much else going on right now that football is right at the back of the mind. The EFL plan to complete the season behind closed doors and in 56 days, is purely a financial penalty avoidance scheme... the failure to finish the season would incur lawsuits left right and centre and that would pretty much be the end for lots of the smaller clubs. I can see why they are desperate to do it. It’s a right mess all the way through, hard to get a solution that will work and be accepted by all parties – will everyone agree to the EFL suggestion? Probably not, but as usual these days the £ drives the decision, so I am guessing that is what will happen whatever the objections. As far as I am concerned, as long as we still have a football club at the end of all this, then that will do for me.
They always say football is nothing without fans, well that very phrase could well be put to the test over the next few months. As the coronavirus pandemic continues to reap disaster across the globe football is the very last thing to be concerned about – but the very survival of all of our clubs is at stake over the next few months and potentially how the football authorities respond will shape the game for decades to come. Big or small, rich or poor each club has been uniquely affected by this disaster and Wigan Athletic will be no different – in fact the change in our ownership structures couldn’t have come at a worse time. I would feel a lot more secure in the knowledge the Whelan family was still at the helm. One has to hope Stanley Choi has deep enough pockets to sustain the club until we get back on to the pitch. Thoughts have inevitably turned to a return to the pitch, and the likelihood is that it would be without fans present at matches. Indeed it would be as few people as possible present to enable a game to go ahead. Is it really worth it? I’m not entirely convinced it is, of course a cancellation of the season in most circumstances would suit us. It would mean retaining our Championship status whilst giving extra time to prepare for any season after the resumption of football. But I imagine clubs like Leeds and West Brom may have other things to say about that. It feels as though the longer this goes on, and longer it will the more difficult it will be to simply pick up where we left off. Do football clubs have the appetite to kick-off again in the summer, before a short break and the start of the next season? A season that could be curtailed early again if we have a second spike of cases later in the year. A resumption will suit the Premier League who are set to lose billions from their TV deal unless the league resumes and those clubs who are set to gain promotion or win titles this season but for the rest? I can’t imagine there’s a desperation to return until everything is safe to do so. When that will be? Who knows. There are so many things to consider in this – if the season is declared null and void do Bolton start the next season on minus 12 points again? Surely that would be upheld as they wouldn’t have served the penalty? Or will that be expunged along with their near-certain relegation? When you look at all the permutations of not re-starting the season, you can see the can of worms being opened by the football authorities. Something that could lead to clubs and leagues battling lawsuits for the next decade. So despite what I and others may think football will resume in one form or another as soon as humanly possible. Whether there are fans there or not is a moot point and until the restriction on mass gatherings is lifted we won’t be. So get ready for away days at Brentford and Charlton to be replaced by Armchair (a) and Garden Bench (h). Stay safe everyone.