Who will foot the bill for football’s lockdown?

Sheffield United in Premier League action.Sheffield United in Premier League action.
Sheffield United in Premier League action. | PA Wire
If football’s first phase of the coronavirus outbreak was postponement, the second will inevitably be squabbling.

It has started already, of course, West Ham United vice-chairman Baroness Karen Brady’s comments about how the season should be declared null and void – which, as luck would have it, would keep the Hammers in the world’s most lucrative football league – prompted an immediate backlash at the weekend.

Cancelling and postponing fixtures is all well and good – and the right thing to do – but decisions will have to be reached about who foots the bill. That is where things could turn nasty.

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UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin did his best to warm the cockles of our hearts after yesterday’s meeting to decide how to plot a route out of the crisis covid-19 has caused.

Ceferin stressed the European Championships had been put on hold by 12 months to avoid “placing any unnecessary pressure on national public services” on its 12 host countries, as well as helping allow domestic competitions to be finished.

Speculation UEFA would demand £300m compensation from the leagues in return for the Championships stepping aside appears to have been disproved, at least for now.

European football’s governing body “led the process and made the biggest sacrifice”, said Ceferin, despite the “huge cost”.

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“Purpose over profit has been our guiding principle in taking this decision for the good of European football as a whole.

“It is at times like these that the football community needs to show responsibility, unity, solidarity and altruism.”

But the Champions League final will still be played.

It, and little brother the Europa League final, have been pushed back a month to June 27 and 24 respectively. A working party has been left to figure out how that fits into a reworked football calendar.

The Copa America has also been delayed until next season.

So the biggest game in European international football is expendable this year, but not continental club football’s showpieces. There, laid bare, is football’s balance of power in 2020.

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The talk of money is deeply uncomfortable but cannot be brushed under the carpet. Nobody is rushing to foot the inevitable bills.

The domino effect of the last few days has seen Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta catching a cold on Thursday causing Barnet to make approximately 60 members of staff redundant. That, not a lack of football matches to keep us entertained, is why this is a genuine crisis. The powerful Professional Footballers Association has seen to it that players’ contracts cannot be terminated easily but the often long-serving, lower-paid employees do not have that protection.

Barnet’s problems will be mirrored across non-league and lower-league football. From Adwick Park Foresters to Yorkshire Amateur, clubs will be nervously calculating how long they can keep their heads above water without outside help.

The Premier League clubs can cope without gate receipts, but many of those down the pyramid were walking a tightrope as it was.

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Cancelling the Champions League final would have cost a fortune and it still could happen. It is hard to see how the final can be played in June without streamlining the knockout stages, and that will mean giving television companies less bang for their buck. The same goes for writing off the remainder of the Premier League season.

As things stand, the Premier League’s intention is to try to restart on April 4, but Thursday’s emergency meeting could set a more realistic date. At some point they may have to accept defeat.

Rescheduling two European club finals and the European Championship play-offs – a three-match process – for June will narrow the window further.

The perceived wisdom is that calling a halt to the season could mean cancelling £750m-worth of televised football. That could mean a £37.5m bill for Sheffield United at the end of a season where they thought they were about to untap riches they could only have dreamed of a couple of years ago.

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Sky Sports and BT are so far refusing to refund subscribers to their live-sport-free sports channels, but the first cracks came on Tuesday, when Sky announced pubs would not be charged for their sports channels until the action resumes. Anyone who thinks Rupert Murdoch will just shrug his shoulders and not try to claw that money back probably needs sitting down and telling the tooth fairy does not exist.

BT alone pay £400m a year to show the Champions League.

Perhaps offering the TV companies free one-year contract extensions might help solve that, but it will do nothing for the clubs at the bottom of the scale who need money the most.

It seems wrong to be talking about it at a time when people’s health is at risk, but it is necessary. It will not be pretty.