Lots of bright ideas out there, clearly, for ways in which football might resume at some stage in order to get the season completed before another one comes along and makes things even more complicated.
Behind closed doors; on neutral grounds; under strict conditions of quarantine; in a multi-game mini-tournament; with increased substitutions and shorter halves – those latter adjustments to ameliorate the potentially adverse effects on players who have lost weeks of training but would now be obliged to play a whole pile of fixtures in a short space of time…
All of these plans and more seem to be getting hotly talked up at the minute, with politicians occasionally chipping in to lend their generalised backing for ‘some kind of resumption’, on the grounds that, as they see it, bringing football back would ‘lift the spirits of the nation.’
I’m sure that’s right in principle, although one can’t help feeling slightly suspicious about it nevertheless, given how famously little politicians tend to understand either a) football or b) things that are likely to lift the spirits of the nation.
'The fact is I have raised three children in a world in which Liverpool never win the league.'
— Giles Smith
In one possible scenario – the one those of us around these parts would do well to keep an especially focused eye on - all the fixtures get played out on neutral grounds, but relegation is cancelled. In that case, given that Liverpool are in a pretty much unassailable position already as champions, realistically the only ‘live’ issue getting settled is who finishes in fourth place.
I won’t need to remind you, even after all these weeks under lockdown, that, as things currently stand, we have a substantial interest in that outcome – an interest that we might not particularly want to see decided by some kind of arbitrary summer kick-about in an empty Villa Park. Lifting the spirits of the nation? Not necessarily in that circumstance.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. I’m merely trying to express something I have been aware of feeling when people talk about their determination to ‘get the season completed,’ namely: isn’t the season already complete enough? Maybe I’m just an unusually grateful person, but I already feel that 2019/20 has given me sufficient delights that, if I have to, I can walk away satisfied right now.
After all, I have seen Frank Lampard installed as manager; have watched him with a combination of tact and boldness assemble a team of fresh, young talents; have felt a renewed warmth and purpose in the stands as we shared that young team’s first triumphant steps and occasional inevitable stumbles; have watched that young team beat Spurs twice and beat both Spurs and Arsenal, away from home, in the same week. I mean, how complete do you need a season to be?
Okay, I understand that it’s different for other teams in other circumstances – for those sides with important matters unresolved who are left hanging in the air right now and who, unlike us, have the agony of thinking, ‘we may never know’.
And I do sympathise. We share our own minor but lasting version of that agony with them, after all. In our case, we don’t know how our Champions League Round of 16 tie against Bayern Munich might finish. It was only half-time, don’t forget, with the tie delicately poised, when a global pandemic hit that particular competition.
So, yes, there’s a gnawing sense of incompleteness there, no question. But, like you perhaps, I’m prepared to put up with it in the light of all that feels so pleasingly whole about the rest of our campaign.
And what if Liverpool don’t, after all, for the first time in their history, get to raise the Premier League trophy that was so nearly and so deservedly in their grasp? Would that not be some sort of travesty?
Well, yes, clearly it would. Yet at the same time, you know, when I think about it, the fact is I have raised three children in a world in which Liverpool never win the league, and I have found that to be a very happy and compliant environment in which to be performing the most important and difficult duty that most of us ever face as humans. If, for reasons beyond our control, the world into which I brought my children had to have its lease extended for a little bit longer – then, I guess, so be it.
Whatever your personal feelings, though, one thing is already clear about the 2019/20 season. Even in the best-case scenario in which all of its remaining fixtures (a quarter of them, let’s not forget) get played by regulation-size teams, over the regulation 90 minutes, on regulation pitches over the summer, then it’s already, of necessity, getting an asterisk in the record books. And if the season is decided with a bunch of televised 20-minute five-a-sides in a secret sports hall, then it’s getting an even bigger one.
But that, unavoidably, is 2019/20 now. In many ways, at the heart of all these fraught discussions about getting the season finished and achieving some kind of closure, that’s all that’s at stake here: the size of the asterisk.