League Two club chiefs remain ‘extremely doubtful’ that football will return this season, The Independent can exclusively reveal.
The Football League has been suspended since mid-March over the ongoing coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic, with at least ten fixtures still to play for some clubs in the professional pyramid.
Hopes had been expressed last month that teams could be training once again by May 16 and playing again by early June, in a bid to wrap up the season before the summer, but chances to resume have gotten more unlikely.
Earlier this week, EFL chairman Rick Parry told the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport select committee that a decision on League One and League Two was only days away, and it is believed that various meetings next week will decide the fate of the Football League’s third and fourth tiers.
Whilst the scenario remains uncertain, Plymouth Argyle chief executive, Andrew Parkinson, and Exeter City chairman, Julian Tagg, have exclusively told The Independent that they fear football will ultimately not return this campaign.
Argyle were chasing an instant return to League One and were just a point off the top of the standings when the curtain came down on the 2019-20 season.
Exeter, meanwhile, had kept their promotion tilt going all season, and lay in fourth place, while Forest Green Rovers and League One’s Bristol Rovers were looking to build momentum before the end of the year.
Grecians chairman Tagg said he felt little reassurance over football’s return, citing the practical challenges immediately posed to the game.
“At this point, there’s nothing I have seen which gives me confidence that you could put 22 players onto a pitch without risk,” he said.
“That has to be the bottom line while there are huge costs and logistics to putting a game on behind closed doors.
“Although, I am intrigued as I think all of football should be, to see how the Bundesliga steps forward. Personally, I think it’s extremely doubtful we will play again. However, never say never.
“The underlying problem is the need for certainty, because everybody needs to plan, but we’ve been in limbo and it seems that is going to continue. As hard as that might be, sometimes a position has to be taken.”
Although it is understood the Premier League is targeting a return to training from May 18 as part of Project Restart, and the EFL still hopes to play their season to a conclusion, Argyle’s Parkinson suggested that Leagues One and Two may be less likely to resume, with those higher up the pyramid dictated more by large television deals.
“Obviously, we have got no certainty of when or if the season might be completed,” said Parkinson. “I think it is probably looking extremely unlikely that that is going to be the case now for League One and League Two, but we will have to wait and see.
“It is difficult because we don’t know how everything is going to land. At the moment there is a lot of talk of the Premier League and Championship playing again behind closed doors.
“That is because they have got £750million’s worth of TV revenue that is part of that play. For League One and League Two clubs, that is not the case. It only represents a small part of our income.
“From our perspective, clearly it is not just about liquidity, it is about long term sustainability. In the short term I think we are quite financially stable but we are not immune to everything that is going on.”
Should Leagues One and Two end up cancelled, the answer of how to settle them lays at the bottom of a deep football quagmire. While Exeter’s Tagg confirmed that his club, nor others he knew, had been contacted by the EFL by the end of the week regarding a decision, he stated that it must be down to the teams involved to conclude their competitions in a fair way.
He added: “We’ve not seen any correspondence and I can’t see any other way than it being put before the clubs. When that is, I’m not quite sure, but I’m sure there will be various virtual meetings between the clubs and after Sunday’s (today) lockdown information.
“I’ve seen four or five different ways the season might end, with different methods of calculation. Some are advantageous to us, some are not. Who’s to say which is the right one?
“The difficulty is there’s a number of options, rather than a simple yes or no. Ultimately, we’re part of a collective and we will work with that group – I hope that it would work to our advantage but, in this situation, that may or may not be the case. If you put aside the personal situation, who decides which is best?
“The decision, never mind what the outcome is going to be, will be extremely difficult.
“I don’t know where it will end up with people pushing things in different directions.
“Hopefully, it will work for us but if not we will continue to do as we always have done, what is best ultimately for the football pyramid.”