Carry on regardless: More than just a moral issue for football

A NUMBER of top managers have questioned the logic behind continuing top level football as a new, more lethal, variant of the covid virus sweeps Britain and is now impacting the game. 

The recent FA Cup ties involving Aston Villa and Derby County featured well below full strength line-ups due to players being infected with the virus, devaluing the ties and making a mockery of the competition.

What’s ludicrous about this is the fact the ties went ahead regardless of the clubs fielding weakened teams, implying the Cup doesn’t matter too much. An uneven playing field was created, the very thing people complain about constantly in modern football. It could have been avoided.

Furthermore, when elite football has gone to great lengths to introduce measures that combat the pandemic, when a club has been affected, to go ahead anyway is also sending the wrong type of message to the public. “We’ve taken precautions, they didn’t work but it doesn’t matter, we will play anyway.” If football has been given, for various reasons, some sort of sacred status, then why allow unfair competition to take place?

It may be time to bite the bullet and suspend football until the storm dies down. The vaccines are here and the programme has started, there is a light at the end of the tunnel but if the FA gets its way, the Premier Leagues players will drop from exhaustion before we get there. The fans may succumb, too – football is swamping our television screens at the moment, the novelty of post-lockdown football is starting to wear a bit thin. “Football again? Oh, alright then.”

Exhausted players are undoubtedly more susceptible to infection. One player coming down with the virus, going undetected, could prove very contagious, on the field and in the dressing rooms. As Newcastle manager Steve Bruce said, players and managers are also vulnerable – no amount of money (the default answer when insisting players endure hardship) can replace decent health protection. On that issue, why do players continue to spit – that most unhygienic of habits?

As it stands, there seems to be some doubt that the league season and the FA Cup will continue to conclusion. At the very least, a nationwide suspension of play is probably needed and games involving youth teams should be stopped. The FA should introduce emergency leagues that restrict national movement and crowd capacities when football returns in force to ensure the decks are completely clean.

As for non-league football, the 2020-21 season needs to be abandoned and the clubs mothballed until the autumn. Radical measures could be implemented to preserve this level of the game: further regionalisation, salary caps/suspensions and greater alignment to communities to allow stakeholders to run the clubs. Forget the notion “semi-professionalism”.

At the highest level, if football is to continue and emerge in a fit state, rationalisation has to take place – dispose of unnecessary competitions, domestically and internationally. How can FIFA contemplate a Club World Cup in the current climate? How can the Nations League continue, or even Euro 2020, let alone the FA Cup?

We all want football to continue, but in truth, what we really need is football in its proper form, not rushed fixture programmes in empty stadiums and masked observers. We keep saying that the game is important to the morale of the nation, but do we not have more important things to concern ourselves with right now? The death toll, the UK’s departure from Europe, the imminent collapse of the economy, surging unemployment, lorry queues at Dover, the ugliness of contemporary politics and so much more. Yes, football has, traditionally, been a distraction from these irritations, but to attempt to carry-on regardless when the hatches have been battened elsewhere does come with moral warnings. 

It is perfectly likely that nothing will change, which may mean football will be forcibly stopped as the infection and death rates soar even higher. It would look far better and more responsible to pre-empt such a situation, and at the very least introduce a “circuit-breaker”. We might not like it, but we may have to take the medicine.

Photo: PA

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