Should We Void The 2019-20 Premier League Season?

Alison Bender   Football Uncategorised  

A debate…

I just listened to (and participated in) an hour debate on whether the 2019-20 Premier League season should be void or not and I have to admit the very persuasive speakers changed my mind. Fair play to Debate Mate and all the speakers, in these challenging times it was great to be part of a footballing community and have our voices heard without having to leave the house.

I’ll admit I was very much on the fence before, and slightly erring towards making the season null and void. Every time I tried to put a case forward for resuming, something popped up to scupper it.

Up until now I’ve thought that football returning has bordered on arrogance.  Yes of course I understand the Premier League (like any organisation) needs to start planning, and it would be foolish not to, so I understand the reasoning behind Operation Restart, but the whole country is in lockdown. Football must not think it’s above it all, more important than human lives, more important than safety. I was worried that if football found a way to return before most other activities it might damage its already fragile reputation.

Reporting at a Chelsea game this season

I get it that football for many is a religion. I’ve worked in football for 20 years and I’m a fan myself, life feels a little less important without it, and I know for many it means even more than that, but I just couldn’t see a way that didn’t throw up a number of complications.

The Premier League is a well-oiled machine, a slick operation with so many working pieces. Of course it’s going to be tricky to get it up and running again after a momentary pause, but that shouldn’t mean it’s impossible.

I enjoyed several points for the motion that it should be scrapped. Ade Odusola argued that it sends a terrible message, that rules set out by the government are being flouted and Kelvin Amin made some great points that football’s image could be spoiled if they see themselves as ‘special.’

I think my biggest issue is the safety side, but as Henry Winter argued, once we accept that this is not an argument about safety, I think it’s a little more palatable to decide that the season ought to be concluded. The Premier League has already said football will return when it’s safe to do so and so the debate is what do we do at that point? Take the table as it stands or try and play out the rest of the League?

For most teams the number of games that remains is nine, but for some it is ten. Ten out of 38, so we are looking at a season that is three quarters complete. As Zarina Bell-Gam said it seems utterly ludicrous to scrap a season that is so close to complete, like a race that is three quarters run. The main argument is that you can’t eat into next season, but thankfully Euro 2020 has been postponed a year so that does open a small window.

The bigger point is that we have no idea when we will be able to resume, so yes, next season could well be impacted, but as Jacqui Oatley suggested, at least at that point all clubs would be able to agree to a new set of rules and a truncated season.

Let’s talk numbers. Ten games could be squeezed into a shorter space of time, perhaps 5 weeks. We would also need a two or three week pre-season as the players haven’t played or trained together for so long so we are looking at two months to complete the season. It’s not inconceivable to be able to play this out.

I think something that has harmed the idea of resumption is some of the more far-fetched ideas. Like playing all the games in a mini-tournament style or playing in ‘biosecure’ stadia.  They’ve also suggested fan testing tunnels that monitor your temperature and then spray you with UV rays to kill any germs. Ideas like this will cause more harm than good in my opinion.

Playing behind closed doors for example does not sit well with me, because even that requires an army of people. Kit men, Press officers, the VAR team to name a few. Not to mention any medical staff that are required to make sure the players are safe. Medical teams that are on their knees right now.

Even if and when it does resume, I’m not particularly comfortable that there will be several variables that will have changed, for example some players will be out of contract, players may leave, some will have returned from injury while others will be less fit or perhaps injured, but this is not a perfect situation.

Some might say (for that very reason) that it’s better to stop the season where it is and award everything as it stands, but try telling that to Aston Villa who would be relegated with a game in hand. Not to mention the fact that the league is randomised so some teams will have tougher or weaker opposition yet to face. Of course you could apply a formula to it, but to put numbers to an emotional game somehow seems wrong, and we thought VAR was hard to swallow!

But try and argue the other side and that’s when things get really tricky.

If we try and expunge everything, can you imagine the outcry? Not just from Liverpool fans and players but a whole number of teams for different reasons. Not only that, you are undermining every little sacrifice that has been made for this season.

Jacqui Oatley spoke about her beloved Wolves but it goes for every single team out there. The top goal scorers that sacrificed so much to record those numbers; the players who hired PTs and fitness gurus to help them with their game; the kit man who diligently laid out kit and may have been thinking it was time for retirement next season; the nutritionists who designed a special programme for their men; the masseurs who spent hours working on the tired legs to get the players ready for two games a week; the doctors who helped players come back from injury; the guy who was given a chance and scored on his debut.  You can’t give that debut goal back to him if it’s being wiped from the history books.

So I guess I’m taking about the human element, and this is a game of passion. It would undermine the integrity of the competition if we took those moments away. Football may never be quite the same again if we did that.  

But that’s my emotional side getting the better of me. The practical side is that we simply can’t make decisions when so much is up in the air. How can we start talking dates when we are still in lockdown? Football may seem important but it will look like an embarrassment if we start having to report deaths in the game.

I truly believe had Mikel Arteta not tested positive so early on, this wouldn’t have been taken so seriously.

My fear is if the league resumes and there is a false start for whatever reason, a player or member of backroom staff is taken to ICU for example, I don’t believe football and its decision makers will ever be forgiven.

Yes football feels like life or death but try saying that when we are actually reporting real deaths.

If football resumes and Liverpool win the league, are you telling me Liverpool fans are going to stay home? I have spent over two decades interviewing them and I can tell you for free they will not. It will also feel unfair allowing them to make that decision for themselves.

We can’t put these decisions on the fans. It is a passionate sport and one that can bring out the best and worst in people. We can’t guarantee fans safety if we allow the season to try and resume behind closed doors. In addition to that it is unfair on those who cover the game. For many players and others closely linked with football, you are asking them to potentially put their lives and those of others at risk. I am aware there are several players who are not comfortable with the idea of returning to work when the rest of the UK is in lockdown.

So yes, for the integrity of the competition and the sacrifices that have been made already, I’d like to see this season completed before even stating to think about next, but my fear is it could be too late already. Like every other business and sector, Coronavirus has decimated it, so why should football be any different?