Love (and Football) in the time of Corona

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As ardent sports fans everywhere will be aware, a lot of professional athletics has ground to a halt amid the coronavirus pandemic. For those willing to seek it, there’s still some football available to view. Sadly, none of it features the Villans at the moment, but YouTube has us covered with a wealth of classic moments, and sumptuous Jack Grealish highlight compilations.

Football, in particular, has been more significantly impacted than other sports, with many of Europe’s key leagues having been suspended for long periods over the last two months due to public health concerns.

Why has football been so badly affected by Covid-19?

Football, and many other major sports, have been cancelled primarily over fears for public safety, and the safety of the players and staff involved in the game. Several high-profile players and managers have already contracted the virus, amongst them Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta, and Chelsea winger Callum Hudson-Odoi to name a couple, and such events become high profile, and highly embarrassing if the FA and FIFA aren’t seen to be taking strong action. It goes beyond this of course – this is a public health disaster, the likes of which have never been seen by most of us.

It is now well established that the virus can pass through physical contact, contact with surfaces, and the spread of ‘airborne’ particles in close proximity. In this way, football matches are the perfect storm of conditions to encourage the spread of the virus. If you could design an environment where the virus would flourish it would probably look something like a football stadium – many people packed into a small area, touching seats and drinks and handrails, and with (typically) fairly poor toilet facilities for hand-washing and hygiene.

Which leagues are due to resume play?

Nevertheless, for those fans eager for a football fix it has still been possible to find leagues across the world that have played on with risk control measures in place to mitigate the effects of the virus.

UEFA initially set a deadline for all major leagues in Europe to make a ‘proposal’ as to how their league would be brought to a satisfactory end, submitted to them before 25th May 2020. Several leagues, including the Dutch Eredivisie, French League 1, and the Belgium top-flight league made decisions to effectively end the season early.

The Belarusian Premier League for a while was the major compelling competition remaining in Europe, and those willing to commit the time will find the league not without merit.

The nation’s football league created brand-new commercial deals to televise games in upwards of ten countries, through broadcasters like Reuter’s, in Israel, Russia, and India.

Elsewhere the English Premier League has now boldly made a decision to restart under the name ‘Project Restart’, with games due to be televised on 17th June 2020, including, of course, Villa v Sheffield United. These games will be played behind closed doors, but there will be a wealth of viewing options including some games airing free on BBC TV, as well as on Amazon Prime, whose early-season cameo around Christmas was welcome for Amazon Prime subscribers who wouldn’t normally have the opportunity to watch the beautiful game.

In lower leagues, the Championship is likely to return on 20th June, subject to the strict proviso that all safety requirements and Government guidance is met with respect to clubs hosting games, and that they receive clearance from local authorities to stage matches at home grounds. The intention is still for the Championship to culminate in the playoff final around 30th July 2020.

League one and league two clubs have voted to end the season early, meaning no more games are due to take place. This means the promotions and relegations are decided in an unusually blunt fashion – using a weighted point per game model, Coventry and Rotherham gain promotion to the Championship, while Swindon, Crewe and Plymouth go up to League One.

Wycombe, Portsmouth, Oxford and Fleetwood will compete in the League One play-offs and Cheltenham Town, Exeter, Colchester and Northampton will do the same in the fourth league.

Meanwhile, Southend, Bolton and Tranmere Rovers, who had a game in hand on their relegation rivals AFC Wimbledon, are relegated to League Two. It’s a harsh end to a season for many, but these are exceptional circumstances.

Elsewhere in Europe, the Scottish league opted to curtail the current season, meaning that leaders Celtic become the champions for the ninth successive season. As with the Championship, League One and League Two, final season placings in the Scottish Premiership were determined on a points-per-game system in league matches played up to March 13th by each club.

In Italy Serie A is set to resume on June 20th, after government approval. The country was particularly badly hit by the virus and will no doubt be glad to have back what is, in effect, a national pastime and a love affair for the country as a whole.
In Spain, La Liga is back underway already, with games on 11th June featuring Seville vs Betis and full fixture lists on Saturday 13th June.

Along with the German Bundesliga Spain were one of the first to resume football, again on the condition that it was behind closed doors to minimise the impact on fans. In many cases, masks were considered but found to be too restrictive to breathing in such a physically demanding sport.

What football is coming up this weekend?

Full fixture lists in Spain and Germany will be music to the ears of many sports fans. Games, as ever, can be viewed in the UK on BT Sport and the new La Liga channel La Liga TV, via Premier Sports.

In the English Premier League games are due to resume on Wednesday 17th June, with Villa v Sheffield United the first game back, and broadcast live on Sky Sports. There is also Man City v Arsenal on that same Wednesday. On Friday you can see Norwich Southampton and Spurs v Man United, and on Saturday 20th there is Watford v Leicester and Brighton v Arsenal.

Sky has also announced the Merseyside derby will be free to view on Sunday 21st June – an occasion could see Liverpool crowned Premier League champions for the first time. It will take place on the free-to-air ‘Pick’ Channel and simulcast on Sky Sports. The pick is 159 on Sky and 144 on Freeview boxes. You can also watch this live on Now TV.

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