Season Cancelled: English Leagues pull the plug on the 2019/20 campaignPublished on: March 27, 2020Author: Daniel Hubert
A week is a long time in football even in ordinary times, so it stands to reason that much has changed in the last seven days. An emergency meeting between the Premier League, Football Association (FA) and Football League last Thursday produced a joint statement that announced the suspension of the 2019/20 campaign until April 30 at the earliest.
Before that decision, play had been on hold until the beginning of next month, although few truly believed the game would return that soon. And so it has proved, with English football now ready to take at least another month off.
The big announcement this week came further down the pyramid, although it could ultimately have repercussions reaching all the way up to the top flight. The FA confirmed on Thursday that non-league divisions below the National League, the National League North and the National League South (the fifth and sixth tiers in England) would have their seasons cancelled with immediate effect. All results have been expunged, and there will be no promotion or relegation for 2019/20.
The same ruling will apply to the women’s game below the Women’s Super League and the Championship.
Winners & Losers
It is fair to say that the move has not been universally popular. Clubs like South Shields, who held a 12-point lead at the top of the Northern Premier Division, feel particularly hard done by. Their chairman, Geoff Thompson, has already threatened legal action, and others could follow suit. Similarly, Vauxhall Motors and Jersey Bulls had already sealed promotion but have now been told that their hard work essentially counts for nothing. However, the FA have defended themselves by insisting that this was a necessary step to protect clubs financially.
"These are challenging circumstances for English football and all decisions taken are in the best interests of the game," a statement read.
"Our primary concern will always be for the safety and welfare of clubs, players, staff, officials, volunteers and supporters during this unprecedented time.
"Today’s steps take into account the financial impact during this uncertain period, whilst considering the fairest method on how the sporting outcomes for the season will be decided, with the integrity of the leagues in mind."
On the face of it, this development would not appear to have any immediate impact on the Premier League and Football League. However, there is a chance that the same outcome will ultimately apply to all divisions in England. If April 30 comes and goes and professional football is no closer to returning, there may be more tough calls to be made.
The Show Must Go On
As things stand, there remains a general will among the 20 clubs who make up the top tier to continue the campaign. There is plenty left to play for at both ends of the division. Liverpool are desperate to secure their first title of the Premier League era, while a host of clubs – including Chelsea, Manchester United, Tottenham Hotspur, Wolverhampton Wanderers and Sheffield United – are fighting for European qualification. At the bottom, six sides are fighting against relegation to the second tier.
There are also promotion and demotion places up for grabs in the Championship, League One and League Two. However, financial problems tend to bite harder lower down the Football League, causing on-field matters to take a back seat. Leeds United, who are in pole position to win promotion to the Premier League, announced this week that their players, coaches and senior management had volunteered a wage deferral to ensure that the club’s non-football staff can continue to receive their wages.
Crystal Palace winger Andros Townsend spoke of the need for players to "give back" to the public after he and other Premier League stars launched their #FootballUnited campaign to help elderly and vulnerable members of society.
Will Football Players Take Wage Cuts?
Recent reports suggest that the gesture of Leeds players will soon be replicated across the Premier League. Even those sides at the top of England’s football pyramid are beginning to grow concerned about a loss of income, and a meeting has been set up between clubs and the Professional Footballers’ Association scheduled for Friday.
Players are not thought to be keen on accepting permanent reductions in their salaries. Still, there is a general sense that they are willing to countenance delays in pay to look after those staff members earning far less lavish sums from the same employer. Any such decision would be a collective one, thereby avoiding a situation where some Premier League players are receiving their usual wage, and others are not.
Read The Small Print!
Elsewhere, FIFA is continuing to work on a solution to the thorny issue of players’ contracts and registration periods. Hundreds of footballers within England alone are set to become free agents on June 30, allowing them to seek employment elsewhere. However, it is looking increasingly likely that the 2019/20 season will not be completed by that date. UEFA’s postponement of Euro 2020 until next summer is an acknowledgement of that very fact.
An internal FIFA document has confirmed the organisation’s intention to extend current contracts for players and coaches until the end of the 2019/20 season, whenever that may be. That would allow clubs to complete the campaign with the same squads they have had throughout the year, which is vital for the matter of sporting integrity. FIFA is also seeking to alter transfer window dates and has called for clubs to show unity in finding solutions to problems in these extraordinary times.
"This work has already started and will be conducted in consultation with all key stakeholders, including confederations, member associations, clubs, leagues and players," a FIFA statement said.
The governing body’s work has been positive so far, much like UEFA made the right decision in pushing back the European Championship by 12 months. Fundamentally, though, it remains impossible to foresee when the season will resume, and it is still not entirely out of the question that it will be declared null and void – as has already happened in England’s non-league this week.