Voiding the Premier League season is not an option that we should even be entertaining. The same applies to all our leagues. Curtail them, perhaps, if the agonies of the coronavirus crisis mean either that the public really don’t care or it is no longer feasible to complete the matches. But do not void them, because that would be to bow to the politics of envy. It would be a victory for greed and fear. It would be a victory for vandalism.
Voiding plays to the lowest common denominator. It allows failure to wriggle off the hook. It allows failure to thwart success. It gets everything the wrong way round. Voiding is not about achieving something yourself; it is about stopping others achieving something. It is about a victory for vested interests. It is about denying players something they have worked for because you cannot bear to see them get their reward.
Voiding is about wiping something out, not creating it. It is about destroying something, not building it. It is about trying to bully your way into having another go because you have messed it up this time. It is about trying to avoid your fate if you are facing relegation or failure to qualify for the Champions League. It is about trying to dodge what you deserve.
Voiding the Premier League season is not an option that we should even be entertaining
This situation is not like the 1939-40 football season; the last time an English top flight season started and was voided. When Britain declared war on Germany on September 3, 1939 and the football season was abandoned, each team had played three games. Blackpool were top. No one proposed awarding them the title. That would have been absurd.
This season is different.
Liverpool, the leaders, have played 29 of their 38 games in the Premier League. That is just over 76 per cent. Championship leaders Leeds have played 37 of 46 games, as have Barrow, who are top of the National League. That is over 80 per cent. Similar figures are reproduced throughout the English football pyramid. Some leagues may be at a marginally more advanced stage than others but the picture is essentially the same.
The first impulse for leagues that can afford to do so should still be to try to finish the season and that is what the Premier League are hoping to achieve. Some say the public won’t care. Some think the need for escapism means they will care more than ever.
Stopping someone achieving something isn’t right; the aim must be to complete the season
Plans are still being formed and they are still mired in uncertainty because sport has never had to deal with a crisis like this before. The Dutch cancelled the Eredivisie season and the FA did the same below the second tier of non-League football but German football is hoping to return next month and it is intended the Premier League will follow at the start of June. The games would all be behind closed doors.
Fulfilling them would at least allow clubs in the top tier to get the money they are due from the broadcasting companies for completing the season and give more legitimacy to the final standings.
It is possible that those plans will not be realised. No one can predict what will happen. No one can track this disease accurately. No one can tell us for sure what will happen if players in our leagues test positive for the coronavirus when football tries to resume. It is possible that the Premier League will be forced to abandon the season.
If that happens, the solution is obvious and it is not voiding. If the season is curtailed, positions must be decided on a points per game average.
If the season is abandoned, positions must be decided on a points per game average
It is not a perfect solution. It does not account for form. It does not take into account the strength or weakness of a team’s remaining opponents. Maybe, over the course of what remained of the season, positions would have changed.
But it’s the best we can do. And, I’m sorry, but unless jealousy or schadenfreude or fear are your ruling passions, unless someone being denied something is more important to you than you achieving something, I cannot see how deciding finishing positions based on what a team has already worked so hard for can be worse philosophically than the nihilism of just wiping it all away.
Take, as a test case, the National League, which has announced that its season is over and is mulling over what to do next. There are nine games left in its top division and Barrow are four points clear of Harrogate. Many fans still seem aghast at the idea that Barrow should be promoted. They point to faltering form and the fact Barrow still had to play at Harrogate.
Many fans seem aghast at the idea that Barrow should be promoted from the National League
I understand their arguments but using any sensible metric, there is no way Harrogate or Notts County, who are third, will finish top. So it’s either congratulate Barrow for what they achieved until something terrible and unforeseen brought everything to a halt or say you would rather everything each club achieved was wiped out and voided just so Barrow can’t go up.
I don’t understand that. I don’t understand the meanness of spirit of that. I don’t understand that impulse, particularly not now. Times have changed. Things aren’t perfect. Not everything’s fair. But if this season cannot be completed, a points per game average rewards those who deserve success most.
If all you have got is that you think it would be funny if Liverpool were denied the title or you hate Leeds or you can’t bear the idea of Chelsea getting that last Champions League spot, then you’ve got nothing.
BLUES SHOW THE GOOD IN FOOTBALL
Chelsea’s news on Saturday about the help they are providing during the coronavirus crisis was another reminder of the good that football and its fans do.
Many clubs have lent their facilities to the NHS and there are countless examples of fans going the extra mile.
The help Chelsea have provided the NHS with is a reminder of the good football can do
Hundreds of AFC Wimbledon fans are outside supermarkets appealing to shoppers to buy more than they need and donate the surplus to struggling families. They have delivered food to nearly 2,000 households.
And when Bristol City fan Rob Fernandes received a call from manager Lee Johnson to advise him that he had won £12,000 in the Robins Lotto, he gave it all to the NHS and Help Bristol Homeless Trust. ‘It doesn’t really feel like the sort of time to be thinking about yourself,’ he said.
FAMILY GUY DIER DOESN’T DESERVE RAP
It was only last month when Eric Dier climbed into the crowd at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium but it already seems like a lifetime ago. When Dier was charged with misconduct by the FA last week, it felt more than ever as if his attempt to remonstrate with a fan who had become involved in an argument with his brother was something that really ought to have been forgotten by now.
I guess football’s wheels of justice have to keep rolling even in the midst of a pandemic but not for this. Dier was looking out for his family. He was doing what many of us would have done. He didn’t attack anybody. No damage was done. No one was hurt. He was doing the right thing. Punish the abusive fan if you want but don’t punish Dier.
Eric Dier was looking out for his family and he was doing what many of us would have done too
TOP FLIGHT MUST SAVE LOWER LEAGUES
Not for the first time during the coronavirus crisis, Gary Neville did the right thing last week when he urged the Premier League to take the lead in protecting English football.
Many clubs have developed admirable initiatives to help their communities and the NHS. Neville pleaded with them to accept they also have responsibilities to clubs lower down the football pyramid who face a desperate struggle to survive. The belief that the strength of our football begins and ends with the top tier is a mirage. Its strength is in its traditions and in the breadth and depth of support for lower league and non-League clubs and grassroots football.
Gary Neville was correct in urging the Premier League to lead in protecting English football
The Premier League have done a little to help those teams but it must do more because football will face a battle to draw fans back to the game when this is over.
‘Once the Premier League do the right thing they can be seen as the organisation they should be,’ said Neville. ‘We need to fall in love with football again. They need to look after football; reassure the game it’s looking after them. It’s not about the 20 Premier League clubs, it’s about the game, it’s about the grassroots. The Premier League are the only people who can stop this being economic carnage for the game.’
He has never been more right.