As Premier League officials pored over documents when the coronavirus crisis first began to spread, a simple but stark reality became apparent: there was absolutely no provision for a situation like this. It was never considered that football could just stop.
That vacuum has started up intense discussion about what can be done next, with all manner of solutions encouraged, but one of the more drastic suggestions has picked up momentum in the last few days.
That is to void the season.
It was an idea that two clubs intimated support for on the night the Premier League was finally postponed on 12 March, with West Ham United’s Karren Brady then revealing her backing in a newspaper column that Saturday. The backlash to that saw the proposal temporarily shelved, but the ongoing uncertainty has seen some figures come back to it. At least four clubs now favour it, with Harry Kane then adding his backing on Sunday. Figures like Kane speaking out has fostered a feeling the momentum behind it could grow, especially the longer the postponement goes on without any solution.
But does that actually mean voiding the season is even possible? What are the technicalities and merits to the idea? What would it actually entail, and what would it mean?
Well, it would mean exactly what the word does: voided. The 2019-20 season would be expunged. “It won’t have happened,” one figure centrally involved in discussions told The Independent. That would mean the “2020-21” season – which is virtually certain to be greatly truncated no matter what – would really just be the 2019-20 season restarted, making the entire enterprise somewhat farcical when eight months of it have already been played. All of the results and records of that period would meanwhile be wiped, and it’s a wonder whether Kane would feel the same if he was told all of his goals wouldn’t count.
Most pressingly, though, the broadcasters would have legal and contractual right to demand money back. This is the source of the very real concerns that the Premier League clubs would collectively lose up to £1.2bn if the season is voided.
This is why the vast majority of the clubs are determined – some sources would say “desperate” – to complete the campaign.
All of the current top-half teams are in that camp, even if some of their supporters are not. That in itself touches on the deeper complexity of this problem.
For all the fixation on Liverpool “getting their title”, the real debate is lower down the table. There lies the greatest argument against voiding the season, because of the multitude of complications it would cause.
“It really would be the worst of all solutions,” one source says. “If it came to it, no one in their right mind would vote against Liverpool being champions, but the bottom would be a mess. It would actually be more justifiable to void the season at the top than the bottom.”
It’s also where it has the potential to get political. Four bottom-half clubs are said to be in favour of voiding the season because they feel that the money guaranteed from staying in the Premier League for another campaign would be greater than any money they have to give back to broadcasters.
This is what the entire debate will really come down to: what clubs will be able to count up to. It really is about the hard sums. Money will be the determining factor everywhere.
Hence, whatever about any emotional concerns based on rivalry from those on the outside of the game, the majority of clubs want to try and complete the season – whenever that is.
If that were to shift, however, there is the issue that a vote among the 20 top clubs alone would not be enough.
The regulations and agreements dictate that the Premier League cannot unilaterally void a season without the agreement of the Football Association and the English Football League. For the same reasons, the top division can’t just decide to re-align relegation so it’s one up, one down rather than three up, three down.
And the EFL’s position is unequivocal: they are determined to finish the season, no matter when that may be. That is down to motivations much greater than any of the Premier League’s reasons. It centres around the very survival of tranches of clubs. There are estimations up to 45 clubs could go out of business.
As such, the EFL’s position won’t be changing, and that effectively locks the Premier League in. It is there where the real potential for legal challenges arise. Multiple sources say that promotion-chasing clubs would have a legitimate argument that they will have suffered extraordinary loss if the Premier League does attempt to void the season and just restart from summer 2019. The expectation is they would be “very aggressive”.
Many who are against voiding the season have meanwhile raised the understandable issue of sporting integrity, but that goes even bigger. There’s the consequential issue of public trust in the competition.
If a league is voided, and the game effectively says certain games don’t matter, it means no result can ever be relied upon. The contract with supporters will have been broken. That could have far deeper repercussions than anything else. And it is all the more pressing given the inevitability that 2020-21 will have to be truncated and postponed at some point, and the greater ease of working around that knowledge, which makes it even more pointless to try and rush a decision on this season.
Rushing it, of course, is the greater problem in all this. Many key figures are uncomfortable with the nature of this debate at a time when so many people are dying and the curve remains steep.
“We shouldn’t be airing grievances about finishing our season now,” one source says. “The time for debate is in a month or so. There’s no point speculating. It’s too early to tell. Football just needs to wait.”
Uefa’s mature decision to relax their own position on seasons ending only fortifies this view. There isn’t the same pressure.
It’s just the wait can’t go on indefinitely, either. If sporting integrity is obviously a fair rationale for refusing to void the season, it similarly applies to any extended gap in play. If that extends past six months, can it really be fairly considered the same season? Would the teams even be the same?
This is when some feel the situation could change, and the momentum goes back behind the idea. It’s why it is still a live possibility, even if a remote one.
That’s if it isn’t killed before then. The Premier League are due to have another call this week, and there is an expectation that they will try and suppress the idea once and for all.
“But you can’t rule anything in or out at the moment. All you can say is the current situation really is unprecedented.”
That means only one thing in all this is certain: the Premier League will be making such provisions in future.