Covid-19 strikes football, and it’s just like World War 2

Mikel Arteta. Picture: Harriet Lander / Getty Image
Mikel Arteta. Picture: Harriet Lander / Getty Image

The last time the top flight in English football was postponed, Leicester City had just beaten Manchester City 4-3.

Six days later, Germany invaded Poland. A further two days later, Great Britain declared war on Germany and, in terms of the Emergency Powers (Defence) Act 1939, no large gatherings were permitted.

The Football League decided to suspend the first division. At the time, all teams had played three games and the only team with three out of three wins was Blackpool.

Behind them were Sheffield United, Arsenal, Liverpool and Everton.

On Friday, the top flight – and most other football leagues in the UK – was again suspended when the Premier League followed other leagues, including the Serie A, the La Liga and Ligue 1, that had earlier halted matches.

Although there is, of course, no argument to be made that the outbreak of the Covid-19 coronavirus is like World War 2, the effect on sport has been similar.

The Premier League said the decision was unanimous.

“In this unprecedented situation, we are working closely with clubs, the government, the Football Association and the English Premier League [EPL].

“We can reassure everyone that the health and welfare of players, staff and supporters is our priority. Despite the challenges, it is the Premier League’s aim to reschedule displaced fixtures when it is safe to do so. In this fast-moving environment, further updates will be provided when appropriate.

“Above all, we wish Mikel Arteta and Callum Hudson-Odoi [who tested positive] speedy recoveries, as well as everyone else affected by Covid-19.”

The league said it intended to see the resumption of matches on April 4.

The EPL’s decision came fewer than 24 hours after UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said there were no reasons to ban sporting events in the country.

He was severely criticised by Watford manager Nigel Pearson, who said that there was a lack of leadership.

“I think it’s important that we are trying to be proactive ourselves. I heard one of the statements from the prime minister last night saying the decision will be based on science, and there’s no great risk to people being together at sporting venues.”

Pearson’s views were shared by Liverpool coach Jürgen Klopp.

“First and foremost, all of us have to do whatever we can to protect one another. In society, I mean. This should be the case all the time in life, but, in this moment, I think it matters more than ever.

“I’ve said before that football always seems to be the most important of the least important things. Today, football and football matches really aren’t important at all.

“Of course, we don’t want to play in front of an empty stadium and we don’t want games or competitions suspended, but if doing so helps one individual stay healthy – just one – we do it, no questions asked. If it’s a choice between football and the good of wider society, it’s no contest, really.”

The decision to suspend football will be most severely felt by teams in lower leagues, some of which could face bankruptcy.

Darragh MacAnthony, who owns Peterborough League One, said there would be financial shortfalls and cash flow issues for many clubs.

“I would guess – the average League One and Two club is probably going to need a loan of £300 000 [R5.9 million] to £400 000 each.

“There’s enough money in football. We need to come together and make sure nobody goes under because of this virus.”

The biggest problem, of course, is that neither MacAnthony, nor anybody else, has any idea how long Covid-19 will be causing havoc throughout the world of sport.

The league remained suspended throughout World War 2, and was only restarted in 1946 – more than six years after it was halted.

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