Monday, 18 January 2021

It’s time to blow the whistle on matches

SHOULD professional football really
continue, while the rest of the country is in lockdown? It may seem a rather trivial side-show but that is precisely why the Premier League and EFL need to take a firm stance and announce a circuit breaker.

I work on the edge of the game, support a team in good form and generally recognise the importance of sport to everyone. Despite this, I am with those who think football is out of step with the wider world. Let us have the mid-winter break we have been craving for years.

Euro 2020, starting very confusingly on Friday June 11, 2021, seems to be the main issue. Players need to have completed their club season in time to play in that tournament. If UEFA are not prepared to shift it back, and I understand that is riddled with difficulties, then national teams need to agree players will be unavailable until the few days before the tournament starts.

That gives domestic leagues until June 5 to wrap up, including play-off campaigns. Scrap the FA Cup this season. That frees up another week of fixtures. At times like this it is a nice to have rather than a must- have. The same 64 teams due to play in the third round this year should automatically be put into round three in 2022, so lower league clubs like Boreham Wood and Chorley still get their day in the sun.

More than 50 games have been lost in the top four tiers of English football since Christmas, though using the word “tiers”, be it football leagues, wedding cakes or anything else, is surely now forever tainted. Individual players, like the former Reading goalkeeper Alex McCarthy, now of Southampton, are failing tests and missing games by the dozen.

League tables are becoming distorted as some teams have played fewer games than others. In the Championship, Reading are fifth at the midway point of the season, on 40 points. While Reading have played 23 games, all the other teams immediately above and below them in the table have each played a game fewer. That may not seem such a big deal, but it is even more of an issue further down the tree. Hungerford are third in National League South after 15 games. Slough are third from bottom but they have only played 10 games. As more games are postponed these gaps are going to widen.

Yes, fans benefit from watching games. We are all short of decent live entertainment to keep our spirits up at the moment, but by May the vaccine should have taken grip and fans ought to be allowed back in to grounds.

Ultimately, footballers and match days are in danger of becoming super-spreaders. Bubbles are burst every time a player goes home after training, risking added workload to the NHS. Clubs are doing a great job keeping everyone as safe as possible, but then so are lots of businesses. Financially, politically and morally. it is time for the football authorities to blow the whistle, adding on some extra time in May and the first week in June.

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