Could this happen in 2020? Lesson from history as Stoke City completed one season at start of the next



There have been meetings and speculation and ideas and suggestions… but in truth no one knows what is going to happen to the rest of 2019/20 or when football will be able to get rolling again as the sporting world grinds almost to a halt due to the coronavirus.

There has been talk of completing fixtures behind closed doors, voiding the season or trying to reschedule games when it is safe.

This morning, Paul Peschisolido’s wife Karren Brady wrote in her Sun column: “As games in both the Premier League and in the EFL are affected, the only fair and reasonable thing to do is declare the whole season null and void.”

Meanwhile, Jon Walters Tweeted: “Cancel the Premier League and EFL. Award Liverpool the PL title – realistically no one is catching them. No relegations. Still three promotions and if too it’s tight to decide who, have behind closed doors play-off matches in the next couple of months.

“Most owners and people linked financially with clubs will be calling for season to continue as it will always come down to money.

“But unprecedented times call for unprecedented measures and there needs to be leadership in the Premier League and EFL who will make a decision!

“Unfortunately most decisions will come down to money. Take anyone’s opinion who is linked at all with a club with a pinch of salt. I have no links whatsoever.”

Whatever happens, it is not quite unprecedented to finish one season at the start of another – although certainly very rare.

Let’s go back 48 years.

Two games stand out in Stoke’s pre-season programme for 1972. One was a one-day cricket match against a full strength Lancashire side –Stoke won thanks to a Terry Lees boundary off the last ball – and the other was an FA Cup third-fourth place play-off.

Play-off ties for losing FA Cup semi-finalists were only held five times at the start of the 1970s and Stoke actually featured in two of them, beating Everton at Selhurst Park in 1971 before losing to Birmingham City the following year.

If the idea wasn’t controversial enough, it was decided to move the latter game from its spot as a warm-up to the final – to August at Birmingham’s St Andrew’s.

It also saw the FA Cup’s first ever penalty shoot-out, an innovation which wouldn’t be seen again in the competition for another 20 years – and Stoke found themselves up against a fella who would go on to become possibly the world’s foremost penalty saving expert.

Tony Waddington handed debuts to summer signings Geoff Hurst and Jimmy Robertson, who would ordinarily have been cup tied. In fact, Robertson had been knocked out in the fourth round by Birmingham when he was at Ipswich.

Could this be a forerunner to one possible scenario in 2020? With players signed in the summer transfer window eligible, in a Back to the Future kind of way, for the remaining games of the previous season?

Either way, back in 72 the man of the match was at the other end of the pitch, with John Farmer – standing in for the injured Gordon Banks – teaming up with Denis Smith to keep out Bob Latchford and Trevor Francis.

A crowd of 25,841 saw 90 minutes end goalless, a dull extra-time and then penalties – described by the Sunday Times as ‘a coconut shy’. The tie was settled when Peter Dobing’s effort was saved by Paul Cooper, the then 18-year-old Cannock-born stopper.

Goalkeepers were not allowed to move their feet before the kick was taken – Farmer was booked for doing so twice – but Cooper put takers off by swinging his arms and leaning to one side. It helped him keep out dozens of kicks as his career moved on to Ipswich and Leicester.

It was a rough way for Stoke to end an epic FA Cup run which had featured dramatic encounters with Manchester United and Arsenal.

Man Utd were beaten 2-1 after extra-time in a quarter-final replay when 49,091 squeezed into the Victoria Ground. George Best gave the visitors the lead with only 20 minutes to go but Smith equalised with time ticking down and Banks made two brilliant saves before Terry Conroy won it with a half-volley.

Arsenal were also taken to a replay – and one of the most infamous games in Stoke’s history. In short, Stoke players and fans still insist, a Smith header crossed the line but didn’t count, Arsenal were handed a bizarrely soft penalty and, worst of all, Charlie George was waved through onside because the linesman confused a bloke in a white coat for a Stoke defender.

A fourth-place tankard sits in Stoke’s trophy cabinet as a reminder of what might have been.





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