When I predicted, last week, that The Potters wouldn’t be relegated this season I was basing my assertion on matters entirely connected with the team’s chances on the field of play.
In just seven days far more important events have developed so dramatically that we’re not going to be relegated mainly because there’s a very real chance that this season will not be played to completion!
The Premier League and the English Football League initially said that games will be suspended until at least April 3 but since that first announcement circumstances have changed so much that the notion of any domestic football at all being played during the next three to four months seems nothing less than fanciful at best.
Even before the government ratcheted up our approach to the Coronavirus I’d made up my mind not to go to the away game at Reading and to wait until the last minute to decide whether to attend what would have been our crucial home fixture against Middlesbrough tomorrow night.
As somebody who ticks two out of the government’s three boxes (I’m still some way under the age of 70 thankfully) for people most at risk to Covid-19 I’ve been keeping a closer eye on the situation than perhaps some of my fellow Stokies!
The question on the lips of all football supporters and pundits right now is what to do about the current season. There are those who say we should just draw a line under the season now and award titles, promotion places and relegation spots based on the current league tables. With regards to some teams having played an unequal amount of games it is argued that you could go with an average number of points per game to even up the tables.
That would certainly be the fairest way but it’s never going to happen.
It’s too simplistic and doesn’t allow for the variable factor of teams who’ve already played most of the top teams in their division and now face an easier-looking run-in than their rivals. Any club feeling aggrieved at either missing out on promotion or the play-offs, for especially if they were relegated, could easily mount a legal challenge and the Premier League and the EFL wouldn’t have a foot on which to stand.
It’s incredibly tough on those teams who’ve mounted promotion campaigns in each of the divisions but if the season can’t be completed then the most likely prospect is that the current season will just be scrapped.
Yes, you could delay it for several months and then complete the season at a much later date but what about players whose contracts are due to run out soon and players who’re scheduled to sign for new clubs in the summer?
To allow this normal seasonal activity to take place and you can bet your life that our PFA (and similar player’s bodies around the world) won’t tolerate any restriction on the free movement of their members or any employment restrictions placed upon them. This would mean that football could resume at a later date with many teams having a significantly different, or at least carefully improved, squad to the one they had when competitive action was suspended.
There are probably many, many people currently working out what to try to do about this season but if the enforced break is going to be for anything more than three to four months it’s hard to see how anything other than scrubbing this campaign entirely, and starting completely afresh when football resumes, is going to happen.
If anyone is offering that bet I’d be ready to stick a few quid on it.
About the only decision which could be safely made would be to give Liverpool the title.
They’re so far ahead that they could conceivably still win the title even if they were the only Premier League team not to play another fixture. It’d only be fair though that an asterisk be placed against their ‘achievement’ in the record books, which would annoy them tremendously and amuse everybody else to an equal degree!
If the current campaign is scrubbed and we start again from scratch at some, still to be determined, point in the future, this would mean that we get to begin a new campaign with Michael O’Neill at the helm from the very beginning and would allow him to put together a squad, restrictions on Financial Fair Play notwithstanding, which he believes could seriously compete in the Championship.
Those would have been our plans anyway and so nothing would change all that much, except for knowing when the new season would start and into what timeframe they would need to condense it.
On a more serious note though, at a time when a global pandemic is sweeping across the globe, with Europe as its epicentre, and so many people are at risk in terms of both their health and their livelihoods, our priorities need to be focused away from football and onto friends and family.
It’s only natural that, as supporters for whom Stoke City and the game of football itself are ingrained into our very souls, we should wonder what’s going to happen in the short term and in the future beyond that. For the time being though our attention needs to lie elsewhere.
All I can do is to wish the very best to everybody in their attempt to navigate their way through the dark days ahead and to hope that our official club motto and the most famous line from our club song are the values we keep by our side on the journey upon which we’re about to embark.
Vis unita fortior and, of course, we’ll be with you!