A strange weekend for Stoke City at the start of an indefinite trip into the unknown.
Stoke should have been in Reading yesterday and that was the plan until as recently as Friday morning, when the Premier League and EFL made a joint decision to suspend all matches until April 3 at the earliest due to the coronavirus outbreak.
As of Saturday afternoon, the UK death toll had risen to 21.
There is an acceptance that it is unlikely that football or society will return to normality as quickly as next month.
Peter Coates said: “It is all a mess, let’s be honest, and one we could never have envisaged before this crisis.
“What I am wondering now is what is going to happen come the weekend of April 4 when we are supposed to start playing again?
“The Government suggests the outbreak will be getting worse, so you have to wonder if we will start playing again then.
“That then has a knock-on effect into the summer. I think the strong likelihood now is that the European Championships won’t be played this summer and will have to be postponed to summer next year.”
Stoke are still expected to return to training at Clayton Wood on Monday, although the situation is obviously fluid, while Port Vale players are staying away from Vale Park.
Port Vale chief executive Colin Garlick said: “Training sessions, whether that be the first team of the academy, will not be taking place on site here.
“The players are in effect away from the business, but we trust them. They are professional and we have set up training programmes for them to do themselves to keep themselves sharp. It’s not unusual because we tend to do this sort of thing in the close season.
“This isn’t a pre-season by any means but the same principles will apply.
“That has been set in place with the manager and the backroom staff for them to follow next week.
“We are able to follow reporting procedures with them so, when we do get games back on, they are ready to go. So, this is not a holiday and won’t be treated like that.”
What is the Coronavirus?
According to the NHS website , COVID-19 is a new illness that can affect your lungs and airways.
It’s caused by a virus called coronavirus.
The risk caused by the virus has been raised from low to moderate and the symptoms are a cough, high temperature and shortness of breath.
Those are similar to the common cold, or flu.
How it is spread is not currently known, but similar viruses are spread in cough droplets.
What is the current situation?
The state of play has changed dramatically in the space of the last 72 hours.
Following their emergency meeting on Friday morning, the EFL confirmed that matches would be postponed until April 3 – at the very earliest.
It’s a plan of action that has been replicated by the Premier League, but the National League has drawn widespread criticism for not following suit in response to the pandemic.
As for the EFL, the governing board are due to meet once again next week when “a further update on plans” will be announced.
Plenty of questions have yet to be answered.
At least four options for when football returns
Plan 1) Delay the season and complete when possible.
Plan 2) Stage play-offs to decide the finish.
Plan 3) Finish the season now as it stands – possibly with an expanded Premier League, no relegation and limited promotion.
Plan 4) Null and void this season and start again when possible.
All will be discussed and debated for days and weeks to come – and the experts and pundits have already been having their say.
What have the EFL said?
An EFL statement read: “While the EFL board has continued to take the advice and guidance offered by the Government and its health advisors, emerging developments mean now is the time to implement football’s contingency plans in response to the crisis.
“A further update on these plans will be given post an EFL board meeting next week.
“This decision has not been taken lightly, but the EFL must prioritise the health and well-being of players, staff and supporters while also acknowledging the Government’s national efforts in tackling this outbreak.”
A message of hope from Bojan
Let’s end this with a plea from an old favourite.
“For a minimum of two weeks we will be orphaned of what we like the most, yes,” he said.
“But it would be good to take advantage of that time to think about everything that makes sport dirty: those sterile controversies that do not add up, those insults that are superfluous and, above all, fights that should not exist.
“Because, although some believe that their team is running out of life, this is not the case.
“Even in moments as serious as this, it is also possible to extract something positive.
“And I can’t think of a better way to honour the world of sports than to take advantage of this break to return stronger, with a more positive attitude, so that we never realise what we have until we have lost it. The time has come to value everything.”