Coronavirus lockdown should not permanently stop Leeds United's 2019/20 season - Graham Smyth

It started, so it should finish.

By Graham Smyth
Saturday, 14th March 2020, 6:02 am

The 2019/20 season ground to an inevitable halt on Friday morning when, just hours after proclaiming that the weekend’s games would go ahead, the game’s authorities decided that there’ll be no play until at least April.

It was only a matter of time before football became infected with Coronavirus and Arsenal’s announcement that Mikel Arteta had tested positive was the starter pistol for conversations and decisions with enormous consequences.

While the Premier League opted not to show their working out when announcing a three-week fixture suspension, the EFL explained why they had opted to stop their clubs from playing games until April 3 at the earliest – the longest break in action since the ‘big freeze’ of 1962/63, when Leeds didn’t play between December 22 and March 2 due to the weather.

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“This action, which will be kept under constant review, has been taken due to the increasing numbers of Clubs taking steps to isolate their players and staff because of the COVID-19 virus,” said a spokesperson.

“In addition, Clubs are being advised to suspend indefinitely all non-essential activities which include, but are not limited to, player appearances, training ground visits and fan meetings.

“Whilst the EFL Board has continued to take the advice and guidance offered by the Government and its health advisors, emerging developments mean now is the time to implement football’s contingency plans in response to the crisis.”

Twenty-four hours is a long time in football, so three weeks is going to feel like an eternity.

Two-week international breaks are bad enough but at least they contain football.

And there are no guarantees that the season will even resume at the start of next month.

The virus is not predicted to peak in the UK for another 10 to 14 weeks, so the likelihood is football players and managers will still be falling ill with COVID-19 in three weeks time and the Premier League and EFL will be facing exactly the predicament as they did when reaching Friday’s conclusions.

The question on everyone’s lips is what happens next?

The financial implications for so many clubs and the people who make a living from the sport are horrendous and the FA and Premier League must look out for the less well-off during a time when revenue streams will simply dry up and wages will continue to need paying.

There are calls in some quarters to wrap the season up, declare it null and void and, in effect, batten down the hatches in order to start the 2020/21 campaign on time.

But the 2020/21 season means nothing when compared to its predecessor.

The 2019/20 season is tantalisingly close to being complete, every division has its narratives and so much has been invested, in terms of finance, time and effort.

No one can claim to have invested more in next season than this one, not yet.

It would surely be in everyone’s best interest and in the interest of sporting integrity to make every effort to finish what has been started when football can finally be played again, even if it means postponing Euro 2020 and truncating next season if needs be, by scrapping the EFL Trophy, EFL Cup and playing two games a week to squeeze fixtures in.

The possibilities for legal action and issues that would arise if the season was ended and no trophies or promotions were handed out, or if the season was ended and the tables allowed to stand, meaning of course Leeds would be promoted without playing the nine final games, are endless and could bog the sport down for years to come.

The financial cost of relegation or denied promotions would force clubs to go down the legal route.

What it would mean for Leeds as a club, given the question marks over Andrea Radrizzani’s long-term future as owner or Marcelo Bielsa’s future as head coach, no one can say.

There are, obviously, problems involved in determining to play out the final games, because it is likely to require a substantial reshuffle of the future football calendar and there are contracts and sponsorship deals due to end in May and June.

We don’t yet know when we will be sufficiently free of Coronavirus to be able to resume the season.

But to bring the most satisfactory and fairest conclusion is to play to the whistle.