Football in March: Coronavirus presses pause on football season, but what happens next?

Here's how events unfolded in the footballing world...

Football in March, eh? What a distant memory. March 2020 will forever be remembered as the month that football was cancelled, as it fell into insignificance in the grand scheme of things.

The knock on effect of all of the decisions made this month in light of the Coronavirus crisis is monumental. There aren’t enough pages in an average book to detailing how much is affected by the postponement of all football. I don’t even think I have the brain capacity required to think about it all.  

Within football, there is a tremendous amount of work to do and things to consider. There are a million questions to be answered: when does the league return? What happens to next season? When will the transfer windows open and close?

That’s just three of the million. What springs to mind in such a financially driven business is player contracts. It’s possible that we could get to a situation where players refuse to play, or demand more money to play. One thing is for sure, the finance and legal departments are earning their wage now. Or players might just be really co-operative and not be demanding. (I jest!).

There’s also a matter of physical fitness. Being unable to train as a squad for a number of weeks will take its toll on even the fittest of players. Staying at home and self-training could be difficult and less effective than as a team. The effects of this may be seen when (if) the season returns and players are suffering from injuries more easily or more frequently. 

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Of course, speculation is rife surrounding how the leagues will be completed. The season could be shortened, it could be called off altogether. What that means for teams being promoted, teams being relegated and teams winning the league, we do not know. 

Okay, there are more important things going on in the world at the moment, but imagine the heartache of being a Liverpool fan if the season is rendered null and void. Equally, it’s not possible to just call the season quits and leave it as it stands. That’s incredibly unfair on those in a relegation battle that they could get out of, or on the brink of making the play-offs or automatic promotion. It’s just not sport. 

In my view, the most sensible option is to complete this season whenever it is one hundred per cent safe to do so. No behind closed doors nonsense, no cutting the season short, no voiding 19/20. 

That would pave the way for the 2020/21 season to start late and perhaps be shorter to accommodate the upcoming Euro 2020 (in 2021) tournament. We also don’t want a situation where exhausted players suffer long term injuries in subsequent seasons due to fixture cramming, so this is going to take some careful (and hopefully sensible!) consideration from the footballing authorities. 

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There’s no use speculating though, we need to just wait to hear what steps are confirmed — it’s like the January transfer window all over again! In the meantime, to avoid the psychological impact of the loss of sport in so many people’s lives, there has been plenty of substitute action to keep us occupied. For example, Michail Antonio live streamed a console version of Spurs V West Ham to keep spirits up on the derby weekend. 

Television stations are doing their best to replay classic sporting moments. Social media is providing videos of footballers going about their lives whilst social distancing. We’re reading positive news stories of footballers donating to charity and helping out the NHS. It might not be sport as we know it, but it’s filling a gap!

Looking back over a period of time during which football was in a sporting limbo is quite something to behold.  

European games were scheduled to take place at the beginning of March. In the first half of the month, several Champions League matches did go ahead, some of which were played behind closed doors. Despite this many clubs, including Paris Saint Germain, did have fans turn up outside the stadium making the socially distancing efforts mildly useless. Although it did remove responsibility from the clubs and UEFA.  

The Europa League suffered a similar fate with most games taking part without a crowd. The situation escalated somewhat as Wolves requested to have their game at Olympiacos called off following a positive Covid-19 case within the Greek side’s squad. This request was denied, which was a certain case of money overpowering the right course of action.  

It was a strange time for football as some countries had taken further steps to suspend football leagues and some hadn’t. The nature of European competitions meant that teams from various countries with varying rules were meeting up and playing, it wasn’t one rule fits all.  

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March 13th was a turning point for many sports across the world. UEFA confirmed that all competitions would be suspended. In the UK, the FA suspended the top four leagues with immediate effect. However, the National League was not faced with postponement at that time, with the theory being that the “mass gathering” effect of higher leagues would not be an issue for lower-league football. The obvious happened and more people turned up to watch the those teams play that weekend, meaning that on the Monday the National League was also suspended. 

Games could possibly have been played behind closed doors, but one of the points raised by the FA was that emergency services would still be required to be at a stadium whether there was a crowd or not. During a pandemic, it seemed sensible to allow those essential services to be deployed where they are more needed.  

News of how Premier League teams were directly affected by Covid-19 unveiled in the coming days. Mikel Arteta tested positive for Coronavirus and having played Arsenal the week before, the West Ham squad and staff were told to self-isolate as a precaution. Callum Hudson-Odoi also was also confirmed to have the virus. Three Leicester players were also placed into self-isolation after showing common symptoms and then Bournemouth’s Artur Boruc and fellow team-members presented with symptoms. Man City’s Benjamin Mendy was also staying at home as a family member had Coronavirus symptoms.  

Once the global situation had become clearer and football leagues across the world knew they would need time to work out what the plan of action was, the announcement was made that Euro 2020 would be postponed until 2021. But would still be called ‘Euro 2020′, obviously!  

Away from football, there were a few incredibly surprising decisions made in sport throughout this pandemic. The biggest disappointment being that the Cheltenham festival went ahead, despite there being a confirmed case of Coronavirus in the town itself. Such an event is a mass gathering to end all mass gatherings. It was a questionable decision, to say the least.  

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There was also a question mark over the Australian Grand Prix, which looked as though it was very much going ahead. A member of the McLaren team had tested positive for the virus and the team pulled out of the race. A number of other drivers chose to fly home and the Formula One season was postponed for the foreseeable future. The decision was very last minute, being confirmed the day before qualifying was due to take place. 

Thankfully, such actions don’t seem likely to happen in the near future. But in terms of social responsibility, at least football authorities acted relatively quickly in comparison. This bottom line is this virus does not care what team you turn up to watch, how much money you’ve paid for your ticket, if there are 100 people or 101 people in a sporting venue.  

Those sporting events that did take place between the knowing-there-was-something-brewing phase and the we-better-call-it-all-off stage undoubtedly spread the virus unnecessarily. It’s not only the people in attendance in the arenas that could have suffered the ill-effects of Covid-19 – it’s their family members, friends, colleagues, the elderly and the vulnerable.  

It’s all been said thousands of times, but at times like this “football” can be a term that’s used to describe a community, one that does the right thing for the health and safety of all of those invested. That includes players, club staff, supporters and the emergency services that keep events running. Like a panicking Scott Parker, this will make a U-turn and pass. 

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