Football’s response to coronavirus crisis is gathering pace

After a barrage of criticism towards its players for not financially doing their bit in the coronavirus crisis, the Premier League produced its response yesterday: advancing £125m to Football League and National League clubs, giving £20m to the community, and consulting over a 30 per cent wage deferral.

Helping Hand: Arsenal and Leeds United were FA Cup rivals back in January, now the Gunners and the Premier League are offering assistance to Leeds and clubs in the EFL as the uncertainty over when football resums rumbles on. Picture: Bruce Rollinson

After another day of meetings, the Premier League, Football League, Women’s Super League and Championship also indefinitely pushed back its April 30 aspiration for the resumption of English football. Top-flight footballers had come under increasing political and public pressure to share the economic burden of the coronavirus pandemic at a time when an increasing number of clubs were furloughing non-playing staff.

Yesterday Doncaster Rovers joined Bradford City, Huddersfield Town, Middlesbrough, Sheffield Wednesday and York City in furloughing staff, and in the case of Bradford, Doncaster and York, players as well as non-playing employees who will now receive sums equivalent to 80 per cent of their wages from the Government via its Job Retention Scheme.

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The five Yorkshire league clubs will make up the remaining 20 per cent themselves. Conference North York’s employees will not get that luxury, but chairman Jason McGill has promised to pay the 80 per cent himself if they do not return to work before the open-ended scheme ceases.

Helping Hand: Arsenal and Leeds United were FA Cup rivals back in January, now the Gunners and the Premier League are offering assistance to Leeds and clubs in the EFL as the uncertainty over when football resums rumbles on. Picture: Bruce Rollinson

Against that backdrop, the lack of concrete action from global football’s richest domestic competition, was starting to jar, but after talks with bodies such as the Football League, Professional Footballer’s Association and League Managers’ Association, the Premier League announced a range of measures yesterday afternoon.

It will immediately provide £20m to support “the NHS, communities, families and vulnerable groups”. Shortly before the announcement it emerged the 20 Premier League captains have had separate meetings to discuss players donating to an NHS crisis fund, which reportedly met with a “wholly positive response”.

As well as a direct contribution to the NHS, Premier League funds will be provided to help its clubs “develop significant outreach programmes to help communities, including those most in need”.

Most have already been extremely active in supporting their communities during the pandemic, via their charitable foundations and other means, something the league was keen to stress. They also highlighted their commitment to spreading important health messages.

The lack of matches and related income is causing major cash-flow problems across the football world, particularly lower down the leagues, and it was unanimously decided to bring forward £125m of solidarity payments, parachute payments and academy grants due in August to the Football League and National League clubs, the next five levels of English football’s pyramid.

On player wages, the unanimously-agreed commitment was only “to consult their players regarding a combination of conditional reductions and deferrals amounting to 30 per cent of total annual remuneration” but it is hard to imagine there will be much opposition.

No new target date has been set for the resumption of league football after the authorities bowed to the inevitable in accepting they would not resume at the start of May. Initially matches were held off until April 3, which was then revised until “at least 30th”.

According to the Premier League and Football League it remains “a combined objective for all remaining domestic league and cup matches to be played, enabling us to maintain the integrity of each competition.”

Leeds United and Rotherham United are in the automatic promotion spots in the Championship and League One respectively, while Barnsley are in the second tier’s relegation zone. Sheffield United are seventh in the Premier League with a game in hand on the teams directly above.

That could bring European qualification for the first time, pending the status of a potential Manchester City appeal against their suspension for financial fair play irregularities.

The Blades are also in the FA Cup quarter-finals.

UEFA were joint signatories on a letter to its leagues and clubs on Thursday explaining their working group was drawing up plans in case a July/August conclusion to the season was possible, and warning leagues which ended their campaigns early without permission might not be allowed into the 2020-21 Champions League and Europa League.

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