The spectre of the ‘null and void’ season is starting to hover ominously over football as the coronavirus pandemic strengthens its hold.
Premier League clubs will hold an emergency meeting on Thursday to establish plans for the remainder of the season. Already West Ham’S Karren Brady has suggested the only fair solution, if the situation continues beyond May, is to void the season. The Premier League has made it clear their preference is to finish the season if possible — but Brady’s words have opened up a debate which is growing in intensity.
Is null and void the fairest solution? Or the most damaging to football’s soul and a nightmare made real for fans?
Here we examine the arguments for and against.
FOR NULL AND VOID
1: It is the only way to provide clubs, fans, and governing bodies with absolute clarity and certainty. By writing off this season now, and making it null and void, the 2020-21 season can start on time and every club will know exactly what league they will be in. Nobody will promoted or relegated, leaving the status quo intact — and players whose contracts only run until June 30 will not be left in limbo by a season which extends into July.
2: It may be the best way to avoid legal challenges. The biggest threat to a club’s future is relegation and the null and void solution ensures nobody suffers that fate. There may well be challenges from the likes of West Brom and Leeds, who feel they are on the verge of promotion to the Premier League, but for the vast majority it’s the solution with least harm or risk attached to it. Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp has already suggested his club would accept the verdict, despite being 25 points clear. Under those circumstances it would be hard for Leeds, only seven points clear with nine games to go, to mount a legal case. It is also the most likely solution to unite Premier League clubs in a potential vote. The league prefers to make big decisions on a unanimous basis, but it’s constitution requires only 14 out of 20 clubs to agree.
3: No decision is going to suit everyone, but null and void could be described as the fairest, because it is the most even-handed. Declaring the season over early and crowning Liverpool champions may sound like a credible alternative, and seem fair to the runaway league leaders. But it’s a principle that cannot be extended across the divisions. If the current table is the ‘final’ table, what do you do about Aston Villa who would be relegated in that scenario — but who have a game in hand on three clubs above them, and trail those teams by only two points?
4: Optimism that the season can be finished in the summer now Euro 2020 has been postponed could prove misplaced. China is four months on from the first signs of the virus but although it is now reporting very few new cases, there is no sign of restrictions being lifted. The UK could reach a similar stage in mid-June if that experience is replicated, but how long would it take to get back to normal? Nobody knows. Without voiding the season we could arrive in July still uncertain of what’s happening — with only five weeks to go until the next season.
1: This is an issue of fairness which goes right to the very heart and soul of football. Liverpool fans, we’re told, will feel most passionate about the issue because of their 30-year wait for the title — but in reality every fan at every club which has ambition to win promotion, avoid relegation, or qualify for Europe will feel exactly the same. It’s the same for owners who have pumped money into a club and for players and managers who have given their all to try and achieve success. All that effort, all that investment — both financial and emotional — should not be ripped away lightly or unnecessarily.
2: There are only nine matches to play — and there are five months before the next season is due to start. Surely we can find a way to play nine games and protect football’s soul and integrity? Declaring the season null and void should be the absolute last resort, even if it means playing the end of this season at the start of next. Fans would rather cup competitions were scrapped, for instance, to shorten the season and allow for this year’s competition to be completed.
3: This decision is not just about clubs and money; it’s about fans and the dreams, passion and commitment that underpin the very success of football as a sport. We’re not talking just about Liverpool here. Fans of clubs such as Leeds, Brentford, Sheffield United, Coventry City, Fleetwood Town and Crewe Alexandra have waited years for their turn for the glory that other clubs experience more regularly — and right now they are in agony at the thought of losing it. These fans haven’t just invested eight months of their lives in this current campaign — they have invested decades. In the case of Brentford, who haven’t played in the top flight since 1947 and whose 116-year-old Griffin Park ground is due to close for good in May, we are talking an entire lifetime waiting for this moment, for a chance to join the Premier League. Everything possible should be done to protect those kind of dreams for everyone.
4: Premier League clubs may be able to survive until next season with no income from matches — but it’s not the same for a vast majority of clubs in the EFL. For clubs in the top flight, only a fifth of their income is down to ticket sales, with most coming from broadcasters. For those in Leagues 1 and 2 it might be more than 50% — and already clubs such as Macclesfield and Southend have been struggling to pay their players. Declaring the season null and void, and playing no more games until August, could see clubs go out of business. Any decision made should be the best one for all clubs, not just the big ones.