Kevin Gage's Sheffield United Column: Voiding the season is nonsense... HERE'S how I'd reschedule football after coronavirus outbreak
So today I attempt to write an article about football relating specifically to Sheffield United, when they haven’t played a recent game, have none planned for the next few weeks, and to be honest might not play another one this season if one of the more drastic options up for consideration is adopted!
I’m certainly not going to get drawn into any political or social commentating on the rights or wrongs of taking the monumental decisions to cancel all high-profile sports events in the UK.
What’s done is done and each individual sport has to work out its own rescheduled calendar to salvage what’s left of its own season. The task facing us fans will be to work out how on earth we are going to fill in the huge void it leaves in our lives! If anyone fancies a game of Subbuteo, by the way, I’m sure I can still ‘flick to kick’ and I’ll take you on!
But seriously, there are some huge decisions to be made by the Premier League hierarchy as to just how, and indeed if, this season is going to end. Hundreds of millions of pounds are at stake, and the ramifications of any decision will be felt all around the football world as there are a huge number of factors that can justifiably be brought into consideration.
My only hope is that whatever decision is reached, it is not made for any particular financial reasons, but done primarily out of a sense of good old-fashioned fair play. The UK invented the game after all and gave it to the world, so it seems only right that we should show the lead in making sure the values and traditions on which it was first conceived are upheld, even if those values have been a bit blurred with the commercialisation of the game in modern times.
It needs to a be the right decision for the right reasons, with zero outside influence from any other footballing authority like FIFA or UEFA, nor from any so-called ‘big club’, and certainly not from any individuals trying to wield any influence or threat. We’ve already had West Ham’s CEO Karren Brady trying to do exactly that and with her team dropping like a stone in the league, we can see why. Enough thanks, Karren.
So, for what it’s worth, and in no particular order, here’s my plan:
DO NOT just ‘cancel’ the season. What nonsense! How can we just pretend the games/season never existed? Players have appearances, goals, records, etc. It’s utter madness to suggest we just forget it all ever happened or just didn’t count, and that’s not being said just because the Blades are riding high by the way. See above for the sense of fair play that should be adhered to.
The Premier League and EFL simply HAVE to finish. Even if there’s a two, three or four month delay to fixtures, get the games completed. Two games a week, maybe even three on some weeks… the squads can easily cope. Even if the season runs into ‘next season’, so what? A two week holiday and all the players can go straight into season 2020/21, no problem. The top players don’t get much more than this anyway as they are involved in international games all over the world.
Catch up the lost time through the course of next season. Dispense with the ‘winter-break’ if need be as after all, we’ve never needed one before. Also, dispense with the League Cup for Premier League teams as, in this era, it’s an irrelevance to them.
If the Government impose a ban on ‘mass gatherings’, play the games behind closed doors and televise all games. Yes, 32,000 fans will miss out on the Bramall Lane experience, but tens of thousands (maybe millions around the world) will get their football fix and it’ll be no different for those TV fans to be honest. Ask the players what they would want to do. I’ll bet 99 per cent of them would opt to play the matches, regardless of any crowd being there.
We can’t just finish the season now either, much as it would benefit Sheffield United to do so. In the battle for relegation, three teams are on 27 points after 29 games, with just three goals separating them. Staying up in the Premier League is worth well over £100m per season. Forgetting the financials for a minute, it just wouldn’t be fair. It’s as simple as that.
This summer’s Euros will have to be cancelled completely and swiftly. Furthermore, whoever was responsible for the sheer lunacy of deciding to share the tournament around 12 European countries needs to be publicly flogged, preferably live on TV. It was a terrible idea, to begin with, and now COVID-19 has only highlighted the fact. Get back to choosing one (maximum two maybe if there’s a smaller near neighbour) country to host it, and resist the temptation to expand the competition finals over too many weeks. More qualifying rounds/groups, fewer finals games, please.
The FA Cup games can be slotted in wherever they can fit. Not a huge priority to be honest in my book with everything else going on, even if we are in with a superb chance of getting to Wembley again, either once or even twice! Someone on social media had an excellent idea of dispensing with the Charity Shield and having the FA Cup Final as the season’s curtain-raiser. Perfect.
So there’s my blueprint to get through this mess. It’s not fool-proof and has its flaws I’m sure but in these extraordinary times, we’ll need some extraordinary solutions. Let’s hope that those in charge of making these monumental decisions are up to the task and do so with a clear head, and with clear objectives in mind for the greater good of the game of football. As we are all instructed to “wash our hands” it would be the irony of all ironies if the powers-that-be just washed their hands of this current season and with it all the responsibilities they have to the participating clubs and supporters. Surely that cannot be allowed to happen?
Play the games, finish the season and when we can, start the new one. Whenever that may be Blades, at least we know we’ll be safely in it – and Karren Brady together with her West Ham chums can’t do anything about it!
Kevin Gage owns The Manor House hotel/bar/café, High Street, Dronfield. Follow him on twitter: @gageykev