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.
Stewart Lewis says
Welcome, Scott. A lot of good thoughts there – very much hope it won’t be your last article for us.
An agreed solution seems a distant prospect. Rick Parry, chairman of the Football League, just gave an uncompromising submission to MPs. He insists on three clubs being promoted from the Championship to the Premier League for next season, and expects three to be relegated from the Prem. If anything short of that is proposed, “the lawyers are going to get wealthy”.
He also wants to abolish parachute payments, and a bunch of other changes.
Meanwhile, Villa have explained why two of their key players might not be available for the behind-closed-doors resumption under Project Restart. A lot of unhappiness to come, I think.
Scott Royal says
Thanks Stuart. Yes, the idea of English football working together is wishful thinking. Sadly. I suspect the lawyers are going to get busy anyway. Villa have apparently said that they don’t want behind closed doors now and the teams in the bottom 6 risk losing enormous sums – a number having ‘speculated’ big-style.
I have some sympathy with abolishing parachute payments, but that has to come a) phased out over time and b) the parachute funds need to be rolled into a significantly increased fund from the Premier League which is properly and fairly distributed through the pyramid.
Tim Gough says
An excellent, well-argued debut Scott. Look forward to reading more of your thoughts in future.
I’m in agreement with you that top-flight football in this country needs to look at itself long and hard. There would be no better time than now for some long-overdue introspection from the Premier League and the FA. Frustrating that they seem to be blindly (and deafly) pre-occupied with a business-as-usual mentality.
If the Football League becomes a long list of financial casualties in the coming months, then there is next to no hope for many of the 72 clubs surviving when forced to play behind closed-doors next season too. EFL chief Rick Parry had some pertinent points to make this week. The question remains if there’s any real appetite to save the Professional clubs in the short-term, and distribute the enormous wealth Premier Clubs receive more evenly in the long-term. If they don’t, then you have to ask where are our future England / Home Nations stars going to come from?
Scott Royal says
Thanks Tim. I rather enjoyed your article last week too. Sums up well my feelings. It will be business as usual because the Premier League doesn’t care about football in England. It’s of little interest to these clubs whether smaller community clubs survive as professional sides or not. The fact that Bury, with all of its history was allowed to disappear is indicative of the fact that they don’t regard lower league clubs as ‘feeder’ clubs any longer. That’s partly as a result of the big clubs and their vast academy set ups – our own club included. As our own recruitment has shown, there’s better value to be had in purchasing from overseas because you haven’t got to pay Premier League-sized ‘development’ costs
Herr Cutz says
The lawyers always get wealthy what ever decisions are made. There’s no magic wand, the government are not going to tell Prem or FBL they can fudge the lockdown. This season is over and next season has problems that need to be sorted. Time to bite the bullet, no football till the autumn, paper decisions that few will like but have to be enforced, get it done.
Scott Royal says
Agreed. Everyone is pointing at the Bundesliga and saying “well they can do it”. But that is overlooking the obvious differences in the spread and dreadful impact of COVID on our respective countries
An interesting read and take on the league.
In all honesty sporting integrity went out the window when the Premiership first started all with good intentions so we are told but it was the top clubs forcing it or threatening to start a European Super League which possibly could still happen.
With money that was promised the other leagues let the top clubs breakaway and ever since have paid the price.
Will it ever get back to some sort of normality only time will tell, will clubs go to the wall again only time will tell.
The one thing we can be certain is that the richer club’s will take advantage of the club’s that are in financial distress with no regards to their situation.
As the old saying goes survival of the fittest or in this case the richest.
Stay strong and prosper
Onwards and upwards
Keep safe and well
Scott Royal says
Absolutely Alex. I hate the Premier League, always have done. Unfortunately there’s nowhere else for us to go when we win promotion!
It’s dreadfully uncompetitive and money talks too loudly. I know I’m not the only one who grimaces when anyone mentions the romance of Leicester winning the league and plucky Bournemouth, without the context of their wealthy owners and of course Financial Fair Play…
As for the European breakaway, I’m now at the stage where I say let them go. Despite having BT Sport I barely watch any Champions League until the late knockout stages. I have little interest in it. If they think they can create a spectacle that people will pay for, fine. The rest of English football will probably do very nicely without them
martin penney says
I’ll go with Stewart and Tim above – an excellent MFW debut and more, please.
Quite how any consensus will evolve from this I simply do not know.
Personally I think they’re still shooting in the dark but Stew has it right when he says there is a lot of unhappiness to come. For every football supporter in the land, not just us Yellows.
I am the very antithesis of a “happy clapper” as MFW readers will know by now but your views are just as valid as mine – and I cannot disagree with a single word you say.
Oh yes I can actually, I admired Mark Bowen more than I did Chippy Crook. Fractionally.
Scott Royal says
Hey Martin, thanks for that. You know, I think Bowen is criminally overlooked by us fans. What a player he was. I vaguely him playing as a midfielder or even striker for Spurs reserves and scoring lots of goals before we bought him. In fact, didn’t he play a bit further forward for us when we first got him? Anyway, him, Crook, Culverhouse were all absolute steals from Spurs. How they barely reached the Spurs first team is astonishing.
martin penney says
You’re spot on about Crook and particularly Bowen, who certainly was a midfielder at that time. Both had the same problem as in Glenn Hoddle and Micky Hazard being in front of them in the White Hart Lane pecking order back in the day.
Why Spurs let Cully go I do not know – but I’m glad they did 🙂
Great article. Can’t disagree with anything said. Mathematicaly absolutely nothing is sorted, even Liverpool* winning the league so all outcomes possible. Points per game would seem fairest to most but you’ve pointed out a couple of recent examples demonstrating why this is far from perfect. Unfortunately like myself you’ve not been able to provide an answer to upholding the integrity. I’m beginning to think there isn’t one, which means anything could happen.
Scott Royal says
Thanks Ady – there isn’t one. Truth is the piece could have been about three times the length. Didn’t touch at all upon the 30 June contract deadline issue – which is probably an article in itself. Its barely mentioned in any of the speculation and we’re not that affected, but a club like Bournemouth has about 6 first team players all out of contract from 30 June.
Jim Davies says
Thanks Scott, a lot of good argument, and a lot more common sense than either the PL, EFL, FA, or the Government are showing.
Scott Royal says
Thank you Jim. Its an awful situation which is impacting way beyond football. And its proving that many of our institutions aren’t set up in any way to address the challenge
Tim Ball says
Interesting article Scott.
It does seem different leagues need different ways out of this situation.
I can see for Leagues 1 & 2 playing games behind closed doors to finish this season would cost more than they would receive in revenue, which doesn’t bode well for them next season to say the least.
While the Premiership top six are desperate to get their games on, come hell or high water, for their massive TV pay deals.
I do think it totally wrong for the bottom six of the Premiership to say we will play this season’s matches behind closed doors if you take relegation off the table. This report may in fact be nonsense and I hope it is. For a start without relegation matches what would be the point, Liverpool have won the league and so many of the games would be meaningless.
As I have said many times on here the Premiership are prepared to risk players lives, and that’s a fact as no one can say for sure the won’t get it. To risk them for games that don’t matter just to get their 30 pieces of silver would be nothing short of criminal.
Scott Royal says
Tim, I completely agree. What is the point of restarting if relegation is not going to be decided. If that’s the decision, then void the season and start again when its properly safe to do so in front of fans. Promote teams and expand the division if need be (if a fair way can be found, of course!).
I also cannot see how European competition will take place next season in a meaningful way. So again, what’s the point in finishing the season?
And finally, I don’t buy this ‘its good for the nation’s morale’ nonsense. Just 16 games on Sky have ever breached the 2 million viewers mark. The FA Cup Final on terrestrial currently attracts about 7 million. Football has an over-inflated opinion of its importance.
It is the so call MPs that are mouthing it will be good for the country for it to come back.
In the so called papers the bottom 6 are getting bullied to fall online or the bottom 3 will be automatically relegated.
Playing at neutral grounds doesn’t do anyone favors but supporters will still congregate out side these grounds especially LIVARPOOL’s on the day they get a nondescript title weather the season finishes it not other teams will always say they won it in a poor season.
Jim Davies says
Playing games behind closed doors would involve frequent testing of players and others, but the PCR swab test has a false negative rating of one in three, and further more, you are infectious for up to five days before showing any symptoms. If you test both teams and subs before each game, there could still be twelve players with the virus (one third of the 36 involved). That also leaves the possibility that one of the four officials are infected, not to mention managers, assistants, medical staff, and the ground staff who would be present. I suppose it’s one way for the government to get the numbers of tests up to their target.
Scott Royal says
Jim, the estimate of about 150 people in my article is just people inside the ground to put on a match. That’s not including policing and emergency services etc outside the ground.
The one thing that is always overlooked in all of this is The FA Cup. I’ve not seen anything anywhere about whether that would restart in the event the EPL does.
My personal preference is for the season to be voided but if we do have to play, then surely that should apply to the cup as well?
Firstly, I’d like to wish everyone who reads or contributes to MFW the very best in these trying times.
A good, thought provoking read and a valid attempt to lift the lid on the current can of worms.
Let’s be honest, there are just too many conflicting interests to satisfactorily resolve this mess. In all likelihood, football could well be heading for the courts.
It will surprise nobody when I declare that I’m standing behind Norwich City FC in the current debate, not least because very few outsiders appear to care too much about our standpoint. While it’s true that the choice to furlough staff hasn’t been well received nationally and been used as a convenient stick with which to beat City, we are a special case amongst our peers when it comes to financial matters. The “self funding” model, of which I am no fan places us in a great deal of peril. With nobody willing or able to underwrite the club it has been exposed in N almost unique way.
The perils of having poor owners,
With 5 eminently winnable home games to come, I certainly hadn’t thrown in the towel and I doubt Herr Farke had either. Opportunity was still there.
The current finish at all costs idea, driven by Liverpool and londons ugly sisters for purely financial reasons has f-all to do with integrity. Massive payments from various “partners” from all around the globe encompassing gambling companies, media outlets and the like stand to be lost if anything prevents the season completing or, God forbid, they should fail to qualify for the champions league.
Around Europe, in Germany and in France, players are contra ting the virus, surely a training ground, dressing room, gym or football pitch would provide an ideal boost for the virus, particularly as it appears to be slightly loosening its grip. If a top flight professional footballer can contract the disease, anybody can. I note that Aston villa will have to play without two unnamed players, as one is athsmatic and the other is shielding a relative.
All manner of amendments to competition rules are being muted. Even shortening the length of the games themselves! Desperation doesn’t begin to describe it.
As a young lad, I recall a cup semi final, where, 6 minutes from Wembley and three goals to the good, fog descended on carrow road and the game was summarily abandoned. One might ask why the result didn’t stand? Goals per game perhaps? Fairness? Integrity? One rule and all that…….
I note that an ignoramus, unmasked as a “follower” of Liverpool was venturing his opinion on a piece on this subject penned by Gary. Branding us “cowards” amongst other unsavoury comments. How ironic that we are govern an unsolicited lesson in ethics and fairness by such a person. Do the words Heysel and Hillsbrough mean anything to him I wonder? Probably not. As he clearly isn’t particularly well informed on current affairs he is more than likely blissfully unaware that several deaths were recently directly traced to the Liverpool v atletico Madrid match played just befor the lockdown began. To be honest, he or others like him don’t care as long as Liverpool can lift the premier league trophy in front of an audience of 5 while the rest of England steadfastly refuses to give a toss. Perhaps they should just dump the trophy in a dustbin and let them scrabble around for it amongst the crud.
martin penney says
We’ve missed you Chris.
And I mean it.