How Does This Football Story End?
We’re no closer to knowing whether the football season in England will be played out to a conclusion but it’s a safe bet that if it isn't, the lawyers are going to be busy.
The top two leagues in Holland were written off yesterday with no promotion or relegation. Ajax led the table, ahead of AZ Alkmaar on goal difference. With nine games to go, AZ would have fancied their chances of a first title since 2009 but, sadly, that wasn’t meant to be. Both clubs will take some comfort from being awarded a place in the Champions League.
The same can’t be said for the unfortunate Utrecht. When the season was halted, they sat sixth in the table, 3 points behind a Europa League spot. They were due to play in the Dutch Cup final and had a game in hand over the team in fifth who had an inferior goal difference. So, no Cup final, no trophy and no European spot for Utrecht. That must sting. In fact Utrecht’s top man, Thijs van Es, called it a "dark day for football" and it looks like they’ll be heading to court with the Dutch Football Association.
Back in England, from the National league down it’s game over. It looks like there will be no promotion and no relegation. That’s harsh on a team like Barrow who were looking good for the National League title and a return to the Football League.
Every football fan knows that Liverpool were going to secure their first top tier title in 30 years before the pause button was hit. 25 points clear and cantering away with the league, it may have only taken them two more games to win it. That’s no longer a certainty and there must be a lot of Red Men wondering whether that long wait for a first Premier League title will have to wait at least another year.
It’s not just about the Premier League though. Leeds and West Brom were looking good for promotion to the riches of the Premier League. Given that The Championship is such a tough league to get out of, being denied promotion would be a very bitter pill. At the other end of the table, will Barnsley, like Norwich in the Premier League, be spared a seemingly certain relegation?
In League 1, Coventry City were looking to continue their rise back up the football pyramid while Bolton and Southend were only clinging on to the trap door by their fingernails. The top of League 2 is a tight affair but rock bottom Stevenage were on a five game losing streak and apparent certainties for a return to the National League.
Playing matches behind closed doors seems the most likely way for the season to be played out as, unfortunately, I don’t think any of us will be enjoying the buzz of live football for a while. The matches would be pretty weird to watch on TV. Maybe they can add some crowd noises, like the canned laughter on some TV comedy shows! But what happens if it’s decided that no more football can be played this season?
Call the season done and dusted and start handing out trophies and relegations based on the current positions? That would be harsh on a team like Aston Villa who are in the relegation zone but have a game in hand. Equally harsh on Sheffield United who could have, similarly, moved up to 5th and a Champions League spot (assuming Manchester City’s ban is upheld) if they’d played their game in hand before the shutdown.
Points per game has been suggested as a way to decide final league positions but that doesn’t factor in the supposed difficulty or easiness of remaining fixtures or home advantage. Or do they just write it off and move on to the next season? That would be a gargantuan dose of Ouch for a few clubs.
The most recent suggestion for Leagues 1 and 2 is a play off system for the top 8 teams to decide on promotion. Good idea in theory but the teams just below eighth might think that they had a shout at climbing a few places given the opportunity to play a few more matches.
I’ve given all the permutations a lot of thought and come to the conclusion that I haven’t got a clue what the right answer is. I wouldn’t want to be on the committee that has to make the decision. Although I wouldn’t mind being one of the lawyers who are licking their lips at the prospect of fat fees when the whole thing ends up in court.