League One divided

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This week, League One clubs failed to agree terms on whether to end the season and calculate final positions with Points-Per-Game, or continue playing as soon as safe. The majority of the league were in favour of ending the season, as League Two had unamimously agreed to do on Friday morning. Six clubs however, Peterborough, Oxford, Portsmouth, Ipswich, Sunderland, and Fleetwood, wrote a joint letter to the EFL protesting the decision to let the rest of the season be calculated “by computer”. Meanwhile, the Championship seems hell-bent on resuming play as soon as possible, citing the financial haven of the Premier League to be too great a prize to give away via. simulation.

With Rovers sat 14th in League One, and a simulated PPG scenario seeing us finish in 14th, it’s very easy for me to sit at home and proclaim that ending the season now is the fairest outcome. Would I be saying this if we were in the Play-offs, three-quarters of the way through a terrific campaign? I’d like to say yes, but in truth I’d likely be quite conflicted on it.

However, there is a reason that 17 clubs have voted against resuming play – the financial implications of hosting games with no matchday revenue, plus the cost of testing players frequently for Covid-19 would likely be too heavy a strain on the clubs at League One level, hence League Two’s decision was more unanimous. It’s no coincidence that the 6 clubs mentioned above are all chasing playoffs, and looking to gain promotion to the Championship.

It’s the inconsistency that’s the key issue for me. You’ve got five leagues that all want to approach this differently. The Premier League seems set on resuming as soon as safe, similar to how the Bundesliga has today. The Championship also wants to resume in some shape or form. League One is a mess, as mentioned. League Two has straight up finished, with Swindon, Plymouth and Crewe promoted, the playoffs supposedly set to go ahead behind closed doors, with no relegation – but then the National League supposedly want Barrow to be involved in promotion discussions, despite the league being voided?

You can understand why, you’ve got three organisations in the Premier League, the EFL, and the National League that all have different financial priorities and boundaries. But in terms of the EFL, there must be parity and consistency in the it’s approach to it’s three divisions. You can’t have the Championship resuming, but League Two stopping. What that does is just further fragments and sustains the idea that there are huge gaps between the divisions, and that some clubs future prospects will be deemed more important than others.

The Premier League and the Championship resuming, whilst the lower leagues cannot afford to play highlights the clear divide and gulf in weath that has put the English pyramid out of balance. For those hoping that coronavirus would be the great equaliser in football, resuming parity to the good old days, I’m more inclined to believe it will go the other way. I’ve been of the opinion for a few years that it’s only a matter of time before the Championship moves under the umbrella of the Premier League brand in some form – I hope not, but money talks, and there will be a lot of clubs worse off when this is all over.

Whether League One resumes comes down to what price you put on resuming the season. Is it even realistic to do that within the given time frame? Contracts expire at the end of June, so things have to be wrapped up before then. That gives teams six weeks to play 9 games, assuming this can all be done safely. Players were asked if they’d be willing to play beyond contract expiry if it meant the season could continue, as was heard in Alex Rodman’s leaked audio a few weeks back. I’d imagine that the responses to the PFA survey were mixed, when you consider some players will be wanting to stay fit so they can secure a contract elsewhere. I personally don’t think I’d be comfortable resuming football if there was even a small chance that someone could become infected with the Coronavirus.

Yes, there are financial issues with not resuming the season, as highlighted by Peterborough chairman Darragh MacAnthony on Sky – clubs will have to refund shirt and matchday sponsors if the remaining games aren’t carried out, as well as the legalities behind refunding season ticket holders in some capacity.

Overall though, I think the cost of bringing staff off furlough when there is no matchday income, plus the cost of testing kits (which the EFL may or may not fund), along with the potential risk to human life far outweights the pros of resuming play.

This is a once in a lifetime event, and I think clubs need to take a leaf out of Port Vale’s book, who voted to end the season despite being in red-hot form and a point outside the Playoffs in League Two. The right thing to do, for me, is calculate the table on PPG and promote the top 3 or 4 teams respectively from all three EFL divisions.

On Rovers, I think Garner will be pleased to have the season end here. He’s got a very difficult job in transforming this team to the way he wants to play, he almost wants to have us playing the polar opposite to how Graham Coughlan had us set up, and perhaps a lot of this squad aren’t suited to Garner’s vision. He’s had one window already, I think he’d be happy to be given another transfer window so quickly, and be able to get some players out the door who maybe don’t feature in his plans.

Given that maybe the fact that he’s struggled to get results with this squad over the 18 games he’s managed, I think he’ll be pleased to be able to have the season end after a terrific win against Sunderland, whilst his stock is relatively safe. There were calls after the Southend game for him to go, I myself had doubts over whether he was the right man.

Being able to draw a line under it now and start fresh with players more suited to how he wants to play the game, that to me would be a better outcome than playing another 9 games that mean nothing to us, risking players getting injured, risking unfavourable results which may put pressure on him given his overall bad return as manager so far.

I don’t know Garner’s mindset in all honesty, he’s very ambitious and may well have wanted to finish strong after that Sunderland win, but I personally couldn’t wait for the season to end given how poor we’ve been on the whole since December, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the staff at Rovers felt the same, so that they could move on with their plans for next season, whatever shape or form that may take.