Time to look out for one another as football faces uncertain future over coronavirus - Stuart Rayner

In the end, English football had little choice but to postpone March’s remaining matches over the coronavirus outbreak.
NOW HEAR THIS: Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Chief Medical Officer for England, Chris Whitty and Government Chief Scientific Adviser, Sir Patrick Vallancea their news conference on Thursday. Picture: Simon Dawson-WPA/Getty ImagesNOW HEAR THIS: Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Chief Medical Officer for England, Chris Whitty and Government Chief Scientific Adviser, Sir Patrick Vallancea their news conference on Thursday. Picture: Simon Dawson-WPA/Getty Images
NOW HEAR THIS: Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Chief Medical Officer for England, Chris Whitty and Government Chief Scientific Adviser, Sir Patrick Vallancea their news conference on Thursday. Picture: Simon Dawson-WPA/Getty Images

Now it is important the football fraternity looks after one another.

The game in this country is financially resilient enough to withstand the absence of gate receipts until April 4, or whenever matches resume. As with the virus, it is the most vulnerable we must look out for.

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In the season which saw Bury expelled from the Football League after 134 years, others have been clinging on by their fingernails just to make it to the end of the campaign.

Chelsea's Callum Hudson-Odoi (left) speaks to manager Frank Lampard. Picture: Mike Egerton/PAChelsea's Callum Hudson-Odoi (left) speaks to manager Frank Lampard. Picture: Mike Egerton/PA
Chelsea's Callum Hudson-Odoi (left) speaks to manager Frank Lampard. Picture: Mike Egerton/PA

Such are the riches on offer from their mind-boggling television deals, many Premier League clubs could operate comfortably enough playing behind closed doors for years to come, but the lower you go down the pyramid, the more clubs are dependent for bums on seats and shoes on terraces to pay their bills. It might go against the “greed is good” ethos the Premier League was founded on, but the rich must do their bit to keep those strugglers afloat in uncertain times.

Predicting the future is very difficult at the moment.

Not long after 5pm on Thursday, the advice to sport from Prime Minister Boris Johnson and chief medical officer Chris Whitty was essentially to keep calm and carry on. It was advice the Premier League and Football League quickly said they would fall into line with.

It is tempting to claim that it says something about the disdain this country has for its politicians and its experts that by the following morning, the professional football calendar had more or less been wiped out for weeks, but that would be facetious.

Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta. Picture: John Walton/PAArsenal manager Mikel Arteta. Picture: John Walton/PA
Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta. Picture: John Walton/PA
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In reality, the facts on the ground changed in the hours inbetween, as they will again.

As soon as news emerged late on Thursday that Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta had tested positive for coronavirus, a rethink was needed. Chelsea and England winger Callum Hudson-Odoi had it too.

While all the other major European leagues, the continental cup competitions and other sports worldwide were calling games and events off or putting them behind closed doors, it felt like English football was waiting for someone else to make the decision, hoping they would carry the can and perhaps foot the bill. Once a family member went down with the illness, kicking it down the road no longer became an option.

The science may not back it up – it depends which scientists you ask – but ploughing ahead regardless would not have been a smart move in terms of image.

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The Premier League and Football League hastily announced emergency meetings, where they decided to call off all games until at least April 4.

The National League resisted, but with four staff members in isolation, Harrogate Town were able to get last night’s match at Solihull Moors postponed.

The Football League explained its decision by citing the number of players in self-isolation, the Premier League felt no need to justify itself in its statement.

The Women’s Super League and Championship, reserve and academy football, the England team and FA Cup quickly fell into line.

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With the virus not expected to peak here for three months, the enforced break could well extend longer. There are still big decisions to be made.

Should the season be extended and if so by how much? Presuming the European Championships fall by the wayside when UEFA meets on Tuesday, there will at least be some room for manoeuvre. The pandemic has highlighted how little is built into the footballing calendar.

The 2022 Qatar World Cup could at least serve one useful purpose – a winter tournament would at least make it easier to iron out the footballing calendar.

But going deep into stoppage time in 2019-20 will not be without complications.

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Contracts, for players and sponsors, are based around traditional timescales.

Halting the season now would lead to no end of claims from short-changed broadcasters, season ticket holders and sponsors, not to mention clubs denied promotion or condemned to relegation were the table permanently frozen.

Top of the Championship, Leeds United have more to lose than most.

Hull City, Huddersfield Town and Middlesbrough would be spared from League One, while Barnsley swapped places with Rotherham United. Bradford City would spend another season in League Two.

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All of that is still to be decided When it is, vested interests must be put aside and sensible, clear-headed decisions made. Good luck with that. There will be losers. The Premier League, not to mention UEFA and FIFA, need to make sure none of them go out of business.

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