Bill Shankly once said that football wasn’t a matter of life and death, it was more important than that, but of course we know the great man’s comments were uttered with tongue firmly planted in cheek.
And in recent weeks we’ve come to realise that football is some way down the pecking order when it comes to our priorities in terms of health and wellbeing.
Even so, the impact of coronavirus on the football calendar is something the Premier League, FA, UEFA, and FIFA must attempt to navigate over the coming weeks with many questions still to answer when it comes to how we end the current campaign.
With Liverpool 25 points clear and just two wins away from their first league title in 30 years, some have called for the season to end now with Jurgen Klopp’s men being awarded the trophy they rightfully deserve.
But it might not be as simple as that with the issues of relegation, promotion and European qualification still far from being settled with nine games of the Premier League campaign left, not to mention the small matter of the play-offs in the Championship and Leagues One and Two.
So here are three scenarios that could be played out over the coming weeks, months or however long it takes before things return to a semblance of normality.
End the season as it stands
The Premier League could decide to end the campaign now and give Liverpool the title, taking all current league positions as final, but though the Reds are just to wins away from the Premier League crown; this would pose more problems further down the table where things are far from over.
One suggestion mooted recently, along with awarding the title to Jurgen Klopp’s men, was promoting the top two from the Championship, West Brom and Leeds, while not relegating anyone from the top-flight and trying to fit a 42-game season into the truncated space of whenever 2020/21 can play out.
But Fulham still have to play both these sides and are only just outside the top two, so would probably have something to say about that suggestion, as would the Premier League clubs chasing Champions League and Europa League places; such as Wolves, Manchester United and Chelsea.
With so much to lose and much to gain, not all fans will agree that voiding the season is the right way to go about things and Thomas Bradley from I’d Radebe Leeds believes the show must go on if possible with a bit of reorganisation.
“Liverpool’s argument for being awarded their respective league title is the strongest across all four divisions,” he says. “However, the legal implications of ending the season as it stands for every team would cause hysteria and no doubt months on end of court battles.
“For me, the league should restart when it’s safe to do so. Being so far into the campaign it’s important that fixtures are fulfilled once we come out the other side of this virus, and such things as European competitions – and even next season – should be re-arranged around the final games of this campaign being completed.
“Hopefully Leeds United won’t be deterred by a global pandemic, but it would be just our luck if we are!”
Play out the season however long it takes
With the European Championships planned for this summer now postponed, this means there is more time to complete the current season, and with the Premier League essentially saying that they are extending the 2019/20 campaign indefinitely, this looks the most likely outcome.
Of course, it’s highly likely that this would happen in empty stadiums as fixtures are played behind closed doors, though the favoured route would be to wait until fans can attend to ensure the season ends in the most normal environment possible.
However, you can’t wait forever, and there are a number of factors as to why this might not be possible including player contracts, European participation, and UEFA policy dictating that the season must finish by the end of June, not to mention the fact that some squads are in quarantine; all of which might make this option more difficult than it sounds.
“As a Liverpool supporter they can’t deny us the title,” says John Pearman from Red All Over The Land, who feels the season should be played in its entirety rather than just finishing it now and handing the Reds the Premier League.
“So extend the season for as long as is necessary, introduce the country to summertime football, it could catch on and don’t forget the football seasons throughout Europe will have to be changed for the 2022 World Cup, so here’s the chance to do something English football rarely does…PLAN AHEAD.
“We could play the European games as and when time permits, even if it means doing something different next time around, and maybe even revert to the old knock out system for just a year in the Champions League. I do think they should end the League Cup next season and this is the best time to do it and while the FA Cup will need looking at too, though I don’t think it should be scrapped entirely.”
Void the Season now
Not a popular choice with Liverpool fans for sure, but this plan infamously floated by West Ham vice-chair Karren Brady, would see the season voided in its entirety, denying the Reds their first title in 30 years which would also see the three teams in the relegation zone effectively given a stay of execution.
We’ve been told that only 14 out of 20 Premier League teams need to vote in order for it to happen and it is possible that all clubs that would benefit from their European qualification spots being maintained from 2018/19 would like this idea.
But it would appear that, despite obvious rivalries, the popular opinion among clubs and some of their fans is that they are looking for solutions that avoid this option.
“I think you’ve got to play the league to a finish across all four divisions. How else do you decide promotion and relegation?” explains Scott McCarthy from We Are Brighton.
“Scrap cup competitions and play twice a week as soon as it’s safe to do so to get this campaign finished. Then you can look at ways of shrinking down next season to get everything back into line. Having said all that, I can’t see normality being restored for a long time so we might have quite a while to wait yet.”