Another to grasp the guest blog baton was Scott Royal who, after nailing his colours to the mast, tackles the thorny subject of football’s lockdown exit strategy. All yours mate…
Welcome to my first and possibly, depending on the reaction, only article for MFW.
Just so readers know where they stand before we begin, let me place my cards firmly on the table: I’m a happy clapper. And now that’s out of the way, let me give you some quickfire background information and a few of my many snapshot opinions.
- Favourite player – Ian Crook
- Favourite manager – Ken Brown
- Favourite game – Wembley 2015
- Favourite season – 1992/3
- Biggest low-point – Blackpool away 2009. Anyone who was there will know why, but for me it was the woman sat behind me who made it clear, every few minutes, that a little lad called Hoolahan was the worst player she’d ever seen.
But we’re all allowed a misjudgement or two, especially in trying circumstances.
Going back to last summer, I didn’t want NCFC to spend big last and now I’m mighty glad we didn’t. I wouldn’t swap the last ten years following Norwich for a decade of 14th place finishes in the top flight.
Our summer recruitment was uncharacteristically poor. Yes, we had horrible luck with injuries, but we’ve also had players who haven’t stepped up. Perhaps too we could have anticipated that Big Timm would be unlikely to make it through a whole season injury-free. And our front line is just as culpable as the defence for our current league position. Far too many chances were wasted.
So, with that out of the way, to open my account I’ve picked a topic on which I’m sure many have become fixated, as a distraction in these difficult times – namely, what should English football’s lockdown ‘exit strategy’ be?
To get the show back on the road, just press ‘play’ again and off we go? Or use this as an opportunity to reset? Of course, it’s timelier still given last Monday’s Times’ article about ‘Project Restart’ suggesting a return of the EPL in early June and, incredibly, the start of next season on 22 August.
There’s been much talk of ‘sporting integrity’ as a driver to get this season finished. And yet, how realistic is this? Do the options being discussed uphold sporting integrity?
I think we can all agree that there’s no prospect of any of us seeing live football any time soon, which has led to widespread speculation about how the remaining fixtures will be played out or otherwise.
All games can be played behind closed doors apparently. However, each match will require around 150 people to be involved, all of whom will need to be tested. Is this realistic or desirable when we’re currently struggling as a country to test key workers? Then there’s the integrity bit. This removes an obvious advantage for teams with more home games left than away.
I have similar doubts about the use of ‘approved stadiums’ as apparently mooted in Project Restart. How do the logistics work? Would each club have a World Cup style base? In closed hotels? Where would they train?
I’ve seen some suggest a play-off system to determine relegation or qualification for Europe. Inventing a completely new format for a competition three-quarters of the way through, is a non-starter for me.
Or what if we call a halt now award the title to Liverpool, base European qualification and relegation on current positions. All well and good, but what about Aston Villa? They’ve got a game in hand. And that’s before you look at history. In 2014/15 Leicester were doomed on 19 points, 2 points fewer than us at this stage. No-one needs reminding what happened next. It’s also the reason why the points-per-game average just doesn’t work either.
Any discussion about football in England usually focuses on the top division. And thus, the Championship, League One and League Two are all being overlooked. If sporting integrity has to apply to the Premier League, then surely it must to the division which feeds it, and the one that feeds that one etc? There are hundreds of matches left to be played across the whole top four divisions.
So how to settle promotion to the Premier League with nine games left? Some say you just give it to Leeds and West Brom, increase the Premier League by two teams and relegate five next season. Now I know that appeals to many across Nelson’s County but, again, we just need to look at recent history. At the same point last season, 37 games played, Aston Villa were 8th, with Leeds 19 points ahead of them in second place.
Isn’t football great?
But surely this supposed sporting integrity is only one consideration? The very survival of English football, indeed all professional sport in this country, is at stake during this crisis – certainly, in its current guise. If any of you follow on Twitter the admirably available chairman of Accrington Stanley, Andy Holt, you’ll know that things are far from rosy further down the leagues. He is clear that his club will not survive if EFL clubs are forced to complete this season behind closed doors.
He’s not the only chairman to share his thoughts. While questioning whether the season can continue for lower league clubs, Plymouth Argyle’s Simon Hallett has advocated much wider changes to ‘unify all the lower leagues in the football pyramid’, to enable more promotion and relegation providing ‘fluidity’ through which clubs can find their appropriate level.
Which brings us to that ‘reset’ button. The £35m hit for our own, well-run, self-financing club clearly demonstrates that survival for very many our 92 league clubs and beyond is at stake. The sensible outcome would be to do what’s in the best interests of the game of football in general.
English football from top to bottom, should work together to agree an outcome in the interests of the whole game, not just those concerned about European competitions which probably won’t happen next season anyway.
Not one of the options so far aired offers sporting integrity. That includes voiding the season. Some very difficult decisions will need to be made, preferably alongside some radical thinking.