Arsenal will be playing Manchester City on June 17 to kick off the Premier League’s frantic attempt to complete the 2019/20 season before August 2nd. Manchester City will host Arsenal at a neutral venue – in all likelihood one of these stadiums supposedly in contention: Brighton (The Amex), Southampton (St. Mary’s), West Ham (London Stadium), Leicester (King Power), or Aston Villa (Villa Park). Arsenal’s Emirates, City’s Etihad and United’s Old Trafford stadia are also in contention, but would obviously not be neutral… With a perpetually shifting landscape and a pandemic that doesn’t look like going away any time soon, it might be more profitable to visit a real money casino than lay a hard wager on where and when these games will take place.
The choice of neutral venues is likely to be contentious: the stadia selected couldn’t be 1) in congested urban areas, where fans might cluster outside the stadium and spread the virus, which is why Liverpool’s Anfield and Chelsea’s Stamford Bridge were ruled out; or 2) shaped like a toilet, which is why Tottnum’s new stadium didn’t get the nod.
Squeezing the remaining 92 fixtures in would mean having 5 back-to-back televised games on each Saturday and Sunday: games at 12pm, 2pm, 4pm, 6pm and 8pm. That way, the broadcasters can get their pound of flesh, their subscribers can get what they signed up for, and the Premier League can avoid a potential £762m rebate on their broadcast income. Football’s governing bodies have committed to following the government’s health and safety measures, and have invested £4m into purchasing 19 testing kits to test players and staff. (Despite the continuing debate of the reliability and efficacy of these tests, and the fact that frontline health workers probably need them more than footballers… In fact – the CDC stated today that antibody tests are wrong as much as half the time.)
(I’d love to know what insurers are saying about all of this: they don’t gamble, and they certainly won’t be keen to frivolously underwrite a return to football – however much it may lift the national spirits. The cost is way too high.)
What to do about players like Watford’s Deeney and Chelsea’s Kante – who have supposedly decided to sit out the rest of the season rather than be exposed to the virus – is another matter entirely. Even if the season is completed, it will always have that air of illegitimacy hanging over it – and what should have been a triumphant first Premier League title by a rampant Liverpool will end up being something forever defined by an asterisk disclaimer. (Cue tiny violins.)
In my opinion, the likelihood of fans being present at any football gatherings in 2020, and possibly 2021 are slim. The death toll is not going to drop, and the pressure to shut down again will mount proportionately as numbers rise and health services are overwhelmed. Football (as we know it) may not ever be the same again.
But something else football-ish will be coming to a screen near you in mid-June, and I for one will be ecstatic. Hopefully Arsenal can claw their way into a Top 4 spot and settle the 2020/21 Champions League debate once and for all.
Paul Hepker (aka invinciblog/batmandela) recently returned to South Africa after a 16-year stint in Hollywood, where he plied his trade as a film and TV composer. He adopted Arsenal in the mid-80′s, and if it doesn’t start behaving soon he’s going to send it to boarding school.
As an ardent Gunner propagandist – he has contributed a number of tongue-in-cheeky images to the Goonerverse – one of which is bound to get him into trouble at some point.