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Should We Forget About “Getting Back To Normal”?

Date: 2nd April 2020

In the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, our first concern has to be our health, the health of those around us, and the health of everyone else in society. Yet we’re also concerned about the health of the economy, our institutions – and for most of us reading this, our football clubs.

The priority has to be getting through this crisis, and clubs around the country have come up with some great initiatives to raise funds during the crisis. Support from the football authorities and government are a vital part of this too. But this crisis has come towards the tail end of the season, at a time when clubs are normally planning ahead, and the uncertainty about next season is causing a lot of concern.

Speculation and suggestions for how to complete season 2019/20 are often made in the context of “getting back to normal”, so that season 2020/21 can kick off on time – or at least finish on time. This may be an unrealistic expectation, possibly an impossible one if the worst case scenarios of extended lockdown come true. And even if play can resume in the summer, there may be future outbreaks of COVID-19 that trigger more disruption. “Getting back to normal” may not be possible for a long time yet.

So if we are to let go of “normality”, what could replace it? The new “normal” might be that we need flexibility to respond to whatever crisis comes next. Perhaps we need to stop thinking in terms of seasons as we know them? The current campaign of 36 or 38 matches has one quarter left to run, so let’s prepare for that closing quarter – whenever it is possible for it to be played. And for the next campaign, let’s design this so that each competition can run with integrity, however long it takes to complete.

We can do this by splitting the campaign into sections that can be played in a shorter period of time than a traditional season. For a 12 team division like the Premiership, section 1 could be 22 games, with a second section of 11 games taking us up to the split, and a third post-split section of 5 games. For a 10 team division section 1 could be 18 games, section 2 another 18 games, and section 3 would be the promotion/relegation play-offs. The conclusion of each section would see provisional standings recorded, and in the event of a lockdown being necessary, current and/or subsequent sections could be cancelled with the final league table reverting to the provisional standings. If every club signed up to this in advance of the campaign, they could each plan with a degree of certainty, without the threat of legal action which is currently stifling decision-making about the completion of season 2019/20.

This plan is not perfect, but like “normal” we will probably have to abandon “perfect” as our goal. Unprecedented times call for unprecedented measures, and striving for either normality or perfection will only lead to disappointment. Better that we find something acceptable and practical, which provides a degree of certainty that we can all base our plans on, but allow those plans to change.

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