By Ryan Senior
Football is not just a sport, it can be both a passion and an outlet where fans can forget all about their worries and cheer on their favourite team for ninety long minutes. So, when the final whistle went at the King Power Stadium on the 9th March between Leicester City and Aston Villa, who would’ve thought that this would be the last kick off a ball on a football pitch for months.
The Covid-19 pandemic has greatly impacted all areas of life, including the beautiful game itself. On March 13th, the English footballing pyramid seasons were halted due to an agreement between the FA, EFL, FA Women’s Super League, and FA Women’s Championship. Furthermore, on the 3rd April, the FA decided the leagues would be postponed indefinitely. 10 weeks later, the government and the FA have been working together to create a procedure, around the current Covid-19 guidelines, on how to run football training sessions in small groups leading to an eventual return to full squad training sessions.
With the first stage precautions put in place, Premiership clubs started to return to training on May 19th. The procedures for this included twice-a-week Covid-19 tests on the players and Club staff, with the first round of testing proceeded on May 17-18th. The players who returned to training were restricted to training in groups of 5 with no contact training capped at 75 minutes per session. And the second stage of precautions was introduced due to a unanimous vote between clubs on May 27th. The introduction of contact training included tackling and aerial duels while still minimizing unnecessary close contact between players
The premier league announced the league will return on the weekend of June 17-18th, with matches being played behind closed doors. The premier league returns with a mouth-watering tie with Arsenal travelling to the Etihad Stadium to face current EPL champions Manchester City, while Aston Villa play host to Dash Wilders Sheffield United. Whereas all of the remaining 92 Premier League fixtures will be broadcasted across 4 broadcasting networks including BT Sport, Sky Sports, BBC, and Amazon UK, with 29 of them broadcast on free-to-air TV.
But what can we expect from the returning games?
The Premier League isn’t the first league to return; there has already been football being played in Germany (Bundesliga) and in South Korea (K-League). Within these respective leagues, there have been different approaches to try to give a sense of normality by clubs. Football teams across Germany have been playing fan noises in the stadium and Borussia Monchengladbach has gone as far as to allow fans to pay to have a cardboard cut-out of themselves placed in the stands.
On the pitch, the quality of football has been good with hardly any players showing a lack of match fitness. Home advantage has been non-existent in the first 37 games of the Bundesliga season, as the away side has won 51% (19 Wins) of their matches compared to the home sides 19% (7 Wins) wins, with the rest of the games being draws 30% (11 Draws). Though the effects of playing behind closed doors have had a greater impact on the home teams and the fans watching at home.
With the upcoming fixtures for the Premier League season, there’s still been criticism from players, staff, and Football clubs regarding the eventual return of the game. Players such as Chelsea’s N’Golo Kante and Watford’s Troy Deeney have raised their concerns about returning to the pitch due to the health risks posed by the Covid-19 pandemic as well as the impact of those risks on their families. Even so, both said players have returned to training this past week. There has been discussion about the possibility of scrapping relegation for this season due to up to 10 clubs have expressed their concerns around this issue.
There will be more on this story as it develops, especially as we get closer to this year’s Premier League season.