“The heresy of heresies was common sense.” – George Orwell, 1984.
It has felt for a few weeks that the common sense end to this season – to actually play the remaining games – has also been, arguably, the most controversial. This evening, exactly 100 days since Leicester defeated Aston Villa, the Premier League will indeed make its return. The 2019/20 campaign resumes behind closed doors, with increased matchday squads and an increased number of substitutions available for managers to make.
Regular readers of the comments section of WHTID will be well aware that I am in support of the season restarting. Had we been in a position where only three games had been played, as was the case in 1939/40 when the outbreak of war ended the football season, I would have accepted the campaign’s curtailment. However, with nearly 80% of the season played, and league titles, European places, relegation and promotion still all to be played for, I firmly believe it’s only right that these outstanding issues be settled on the pitch (I will say, however, that I do not agree with changing the rules on substitutions).
The efforts of the likes of Sheffield United, Wolves, Leeds, West Brom and Brentford deserve to be recognised by playing the season’s remaining games and bringing 2019/20 to a playing conclusion. The likes of Aston Villa and Norwich do not deserve to be relegated when there are still 900 minutes (in Villa’s case) of their season still to be played.
The alternatives are there to be shot down. Cancellation? This would involve promoting and relegating clubs on a points per game formula which has seen Tranmere brutally relegated in League One despite having taken maximum points from their last three matches and being only three points behind Wimbledon, with a game in hand. The same formula unceremoniously dumped Peterborough out of the play-off places and moved Wycombe from eighth to third in the ‘final’ table. On such decisions, there’s nothing to suggest that a club like Aston Villa, if relegated, wouldn’t do a Sunderland and end up in League One within a year or two. The future of football clubs, and the jobs of those members of staff behind the scenes, are at risk from the decisions of bureaucrats in the event of PPG. A Weighted PPG model is even more unfair.
Null and void? This would involve stripping all matches from the record books. West Ham United, for example, would go back to not having won at Chelsea for 17 years – Aaron Cresswell’s matchwinner at Stamford Bridge would, under the very definition of null and void, not have counted if the 2019/20 season were to be consigned to the dustbin. David Martin’s emotional appearances for the club would similarly count for nothing; Leicester’s record-equalling 9-0 mauling of Southampton would be stricken from the records.
Is it fair to discount the achievements of players and teams in the 2019/20 season to date? Is it fair to have the rest of this season’s matches determined by a mathematical formula dreamt up over a video conference call? Of course, football will look very different in these remaining matches. As a supporter who attends the vast majority of matches home and away, up and down the country, I want to be there to support my team. Right now that’s not possible though, and that’s no reason to throw the season to the dogs or allow it to be finished by maths rather than matches. It is very far from ideal but, for me, seeing the season out with 11 players against 11, on a football pitch, with a referee and VAR, is vastly preferable to having a guess about what happens over the remaining matches.
We are now in for a relentless end to the season which will be more akin to an international tournament given the frequency of the matches; similar, in some ways, to the end of 1985/86 when we hadn’t played a league mach for six weeks due to bad weather. Whilst far from ideal, at least the season’s remaining drama will be played out on grass, rather than graph paper.
Let the games begin…