The show must go on. A phrase coined by 19th-century circus performers and one which is used heavily in show business and performance today. It means despite what happens, whatever mishaps, misfortunes, or spanner that gets thrown in the works, things will continue despite the trying circumstances.
As we sit here wondering how the respective football leagues around the world will conclude amid the Coronavirus epidemic, it seems the EFL is thinking with the same mentality, as they announce a potential plan to decide promotion from Leagues One and Two with two mini-tournaments, which would see the top eight teams of each league respectively battle it out for a place in the league above them.
The idea, which was discussed in a meeting between the league and club captains last Friday, was one of the three potential solutions discussed which would attempt to successfully conclude the EFL's bottom two leagues’ season. But the EFL need to realise if they do implement this idea, that this particular show won’t have a happy ending.
Firstly, if the EFL believes that the season will be able to finish in the first place then they are well and truly living in a fantasy land. They have stated that their preference is to finish the season over a 56-day period, but that two mini-tournaments may be a safer way to conclude the season due to fewer games being played and therefore fewer people being put at risk. But if this solution were to take place the EFL would be ignoring one simple fact, that it would be impossible to stage two different mini-tournaments and guarantee no one involved will contract the Coronavirus.
The sheer amount of staff it takes to host a game of football, even without fans, is enormous. stewards, security, catering, playing and coaching staff to name a few groups which would all be at risk multiple times over for the sake of completing the end of the season. To disagree with the commonly used phrase, football is not more than a matter of life and death, and despite its cultural and societal importance, it should not be prioritised over people’s lives.
Secondly, let’s say somehow that this tournament goes ahead without a hitch, and that three teams are promoted from each league to the next. Would the possibility of a team nowhere near the top of the league getting promoted over a team near the top seem fair? As it stands Wycombe sit eighth in league one, eight points away from the top of the table Coventry. If a mini-tournament were to take place there would be a chance that Coventry could lose out to promotion at the hands of Wycombe. This doesn’t seem right, it gives no reward to the teams who have had good seasons and is essentially asking them to gamble their hard-earned league position for a chance at promotion, something they were almost certain to achieve anyway.
However, there is an argument that to end the season some other way, whether that be ranking the final league positions on points per game or making the season null and void altogether, are no better solutions than staging a mini tournament.
You could argue that to decide the season on points per game would be unfair, as teams taking part in the season did so believing that they would play the usual 46 games and they should have the right to improve their league position by playing out the season. But to suggest this would be ignoring the severity of the COVID-19 epidemic, and as previously stated would be putting people’s lives at risk.
You could also argue that to make the season null and void would not be a great solution as well, as it would mean that the blood, sweat and tears given by the players, managers and staff of all the teams in the EFL would count for nothing, and to do that would to be unfair on the teams that have sacrificed so much to put themselves in a position for success.
However, could you convince a fan of a team such as Coventry, who are five points clear of second place in league one, that all the effort and sacrifices their team made to earn an automatic promotion spot were worth it if they went on to not earn promotion through the mini-tournament?
In short, not only would the EFL staging these tournaments be unfair on the teams near the top end of their leagues, but it would also be putting thousands at risk of contracting the Coronavirus and risking their lives for the sake of football. As much as finishing the season matters to people, there is no solution that has been suggested so far which has managed to combine sporting fairness with safety. Instead of focusing on fantastical ideas, the EFL should realise that in terms of the 2019/20 season, the show must not go on.
This article was written exclusively for golear.co.uk