Tiered fan system is unfair on Sheffield Wednesday.. but it's all been unfair, hasn’t it?
The Championship will be split into two distinct camps of ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’ when the national lockdown is brought to an end next week and supporters are welcomed back into Football League stadiums for the first time since March.
The sizzling of car park burger vans will cut through the polite hum of supporters at Bournemouth and Brentford. There’ll be responsibly-distanced chattering on concourses at Watford and Wycombe and programmes purchased at Millwall, QPR and Reading.
Goals will be celebrated at Norwich, while confirmation of the allowance of spectators at the division’s two league clubs, Cardiff and Swansea, is yet to come.
At Hillsborough? Nothing. The soul-destroying silence of blue empty terraces will continue as it will across all other stadiums placed in the Government’s third tier of safety in their latest attempt to control the coronavirus pandemic.
And it is of course grossly unfair on the clubs missing out. Behind-closed-doors matches are used as some of football’s most draconian sanctions, previously reserved as punishment for displays of racism or violence. The advantage of having home support, and home support only, will be enormous.
And that’s before you count the financial benefit. However slender compared to the figures raked in at full capacity, every penny counts in these perilous economic times and if the current restrictions are to be extended as the Government plough on in their attempt to paint themselves as the saviours of Christmas, that financial advantage swells.
But here’s the thing.. it’s all been unfair, hasn’t it? From the very outset of football’s response to the pandemic, the metaphorical playing field has been far from level.
The shrinking of the time left to play out the remainder of last season’s fixtures? Unfair on those with smaller squads and those who had set up to complete the season with the likes of Steven Fletcher.
The five-sub rule, brought in to protect player welfare, also gave those with bigger squads an advantage and allowing, for example, Preston to bring on the fresh legs of Daniel Johnson, Scott Sinclair and Jayden Stockley in a match that saw the Owls name four academy players on the bench.
It’s been unfair on clubs, such as Wednesday, that planned to use this summer to transform their squad. Long-term plans at clubs all over the country have been torn up by this pandemic.
And it’s been hugely unfair on clubs that rely so heavily on home support. A sore subject across the city, Sheffield United could be relegated this season. Would their wretched form of late be as bad in a parallel universe that allows Bramall Lane to admit supporters? The only fact is that we’ll never know.
This may well read like a long list of sorry excuses as to why Sheffield Wednesday have been hard-done by the fall-out of the coronavirus pandemic and in some ways it is.
But the advantages of having a stadium in a ‘tier two’ region is just the latest factor clubs will have to contend with.
Football without fans really is nothing. It’s bland and in an empty stadium it feels largely pointless. Personally, I’m looking forward to seeing fans in stadiums, however jealously we look on from a Wednesday viewpoint.
The pandemic has thrown up far bigger injustices for us to worry about.