Sport is important, but we must get our priorities right - Matt Scrafton's verdict on the shutdown of English football over coronavirus pandemic

Football’s ability to be completely consumed by self-interest never ceases to amaze me.

By Matt Scrafton
Sunday, 15th March 2020, 10:49 am
Updated Sunday, 15th March 2020, 5:55 pm

Read More

Read More
A look back at when Blackpool were leading the old First Division when English f...

Last week the stark reality of the coronavirus pandemic finally dawned on the UK public, with cases mounting and events cancelled left, right and centre.

Finally the footballing authorities did what it probably ought to have done at the start of the week, if not sooner, and postpone all fixtures until April 3 at the earliest.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

Blackpool won't be playing football for the foreseeable future

In the EFL’s case, having originally committed to 'keeping calm and carrying on', they eventually acted in the wake of Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta testing positive for the illness, which was shortly followed by another positive test for Chelsea winger Callum Hudsoin-Odoi.

The health and safety of all footballers is of course paramount, but it is a little alarming it took a couple of high-profile cases for the authorities to stand up and take notice.

The date of April 3, you would think, will continue to be pushed back and this will be a suspension that lasts for months, rather than just three or four games. But it will give the FA, the EFL et al the time to figure out what they’re going to do.

But in truth, does it really matter? Football is so far down the list of priorities right now.

Already we’ve seen and heard fans, players, coaches, pundits and, it has to be said, many journalists bickering over what should happen to the remainder of the footballing calendar.

Football is the number one thing that consumes most of my thinking during ‘normal’ times but forgive me for not caring one jot about the sport right now.

Perhaps that would be different were I a Liverpool fan, given there’s a good chance their inevitable first title win in 30 years could be wiped out.

With Liverpool the runaway leaders in the top flight, Watford manager Neil Pearson said it would be a “tragedy” were the Premier League season to be declared null and void.

There’s only one tragedy happening right now in front of our very eyes and it has nothing to do with 22 men kicking a football around a pitch.

Jurgen Klopp had it right when he penned a message to Liverpool supporters on Friday.

“I’ve said before that football always seems the most important of the least important things,” the German wrote.

“Today, football and football matches really aren’t important at all.”

In his 416-word statement, there wasn’t a single mention of the Premier League title. “Put your health first, don’t take any risks,” was the main gist.

Compare and contrast the statement from Klopp to the one given by West Ham owner Karen Brady, who argued the only “fair and reasonable” thing to do is to declare the season null and void.

It should come as no surprise that West Ham are hovering just above the relegation zone in the Premier League. Talk about acting in self-interest...

At first, the sport appeared to take the approach of waiting for the outbreak to blow over. Then when it was challenged why football games were continuing to be played, that trusty card of the sport being a ‘distraction’ in troubled times was brought to the table.

Eventually they were left with no choice but to announce a blanket ban (ignoring the National League, who bizarrely wanted their member clubs to carry on this weekend despite their reluctance).

As it stands, a later finish to the season looks inevitable and that should be helped by the postponement of Euro 2020, which looks as though it will be put back a number of months, if not a year.

But the reality is, football with resume when it's safe to do so. Not a great deal can be planned right now when we've no idea how long the pandemic will last for.

Would action have been taken sooner had there not been so much money riding on the sport? That’s the crux of the issue.

Of course that is a major concern the further you go down the pyramid, where clubs are heavily reliant on revenue from ticket sales. There's a good chance some clubs could go under.

Blackpool will be affected, they will have lost in the region of £150,000 for the cancellation of their game against Sunderland on Saturday, with the Black Cats due to bring 4,300 supporters.

But the Seasiders have the luxury of having a rich benefactor who is capable of offsetting any losses. Other clubs won’t be quite so lucky.

You would hope a pot of cash will be made available to those in need of it lower down the leagues, either by Premier League sides who are awash with money or from the government.

But right now, I find any talk of money or football vulgar when lives are at stake.

These are unprecedented times, events not seen since the Second World War. Forgive me for not caring about whether Liverpool should win the league or West Ham or Aston should be relegated.

There’s far more important things going on.