Over the last week, I’ve realised how much my life revolves around football as the Coronavirus has well and truly left its mark on football. We have seen some of the biggest names in football get diagnosed with the horrible virus and football across the world has come to an immediate halt.
In the United Kingdom the English Premiership, EFL, National League WSL and FAW have been suspended until April while all Scottish professional and grassroot football has been suspended until further notice, making me wonder when I will see my beloved Hamilton play again?
One of the main questions going around is about if the season will be completed and if not, how are the SFA or FA going to decide. The best option would be to obviously play out the remainder of the season, but there are a couple controversial options if that could happen . Declare the season void and restart next season with the same teams, promote and relegate the teams as the current standings are, or finally, add two further teams to the SPL and make it a 14 team league next season, therefore no one would suffer from the situation.
In my opinion, you cannot declare the season void as that would be totally unfair on the smaller clubs in Scottish and English football who get the majority of their revenue from punters coming through the turnstiles on a Saturday afternoon. Also, what would happen to likes of Cove Rangers, Dundee United, Celtic and Liverpool who have arguably had the title in the bag for the last few months, and will see all their hard work, dedication and investment go to nothing.
Correspondingly, UEFA released a statement on Tuesday, stating that an agreement has been reached, demanding all domestic leagues to be finished by 30th June 2020, but realistically what are the chances of this actually happening?
In Scotland, Celtic are well on their way to nine league trophies in a row with Rangers miles behind in their wake. Neil Lennon believes that Celtic should be crowned champions as they have a superior average points total for the season. The main story in Scotland though is at the foot of the Premiership as Hearts are pinned to the bottom without much hope and face the possibility of being relegated if the season was to be decided on current standings, piling even more pressure to the difficult task already ahead . On Monday, owner Ann Budge was the focal point of the Scottish media, saying she will be taking legal action against the SPFL if they were to drop down a division as she believes the season hasn’t been completed since there hasn’t been 38 games played, adding themselves to a large bracket of unfairly treated clubs.
Therefore, I thought I’d get an insight of what it is like as a supporter of the two sides at the moment and ask their opinions on the whole situation.
Celtic fan Lewis Laird proclaimed: “ Before the suspension we had been riding high at the top of the league, 13 points clear and looking forward to the famous derby against Rangers coming up which would give us a huge chance to pretty much secure the title. Now though the whole thing is been left in doubt. I would say I speak for pretty much every Celtic fan in saying, we want this league to finish. If there is a way to get it done, that is the priority but by the sounds of things that might not be possible without effecting other competitions.
I heard the uncertainty and worry in his voice when he said: “There have been a number of ideas thrown around, some can in no way be allowed to happen. One of which would be voiding the league. The amount of problems that would cause, having already played 30 games. It was also cause problems in terms of money with both TV companies likely demanding their money back for a season that seemingly ‘never happened’ and season ticket holders would likely be demanding that back too. Making reference to a good point, season tickets are constantly on the rise nowadays, and also availability at Celtic is a large problem. Fans like Lewis will be wondering if their £520 season ticket will be valid for the whole duration of the season.
Interestingly, he offered a couple of solutions to this complexed issue. “For me there are only three scenarios that should happen if they can possibly be done. The first being getting the season done, playing the remaining eight games. Could the games be played behind closed doors or throughout the summer. That is something for the SFA and SPFL to discuss but again doesn’t look likely. Number two would be finishing the league as it is. I know that might sound bias but having played 30 games already, we are a majority of the way through this season. Teams like Hearts might not be happy with that scenario but at that stage there might not be any other choice. Why should winners lose and losers win? The final idea could be to extend the league to 14 teams whilst having no relegations, and then either sticking with that format, or putting it back to normal next season by relegating more teams. This would mean that teams like Dundee United’s hard work wouldn’t be put to waste, whilst also keeping Hearts up who weren’t given the full 38 games last season to stay up. The best scenario of course would be to finish it when possible and that should be the aim no matter what happens in my opinion.
“What must be said is of course, people’s health does come first in this scenario. If it is a matter of life or death, the football will need to take a back step for a little while longer. But there are a number of key discussions and decisions that are needing to be made, within the next couple of months to determine the outcome of Scottish football.”
Contrastingly, Hearts announced on Wednesday that players and staff have been asked to take a 50% wage cut from the beginning of April, making us wonder if they think the Premiership season has been blown for full time. I spoke to Jambo’s vlogger and fan Aaron Fraser.
He said: “The virus is affecting me massively as it’s taken away my main passion in life which is following Hearts home and away, also my school life and my future is in limbo with the news that schools are set to close on Friday until after summer. I have no idea what to expect and it’s a scary situation to be in as a young adult.
He also considered all perspectives, putting rivalries aside. “It’s affecting the league massively as all games are postponed until further notice which impacts clubs with players out of contract in summer, as well as smaller lower league clubs who rely on matchday revenue to survive. it will be a case of battening down the hatches and hoping to see this tough period out. The outcome should be, if possible, to finish this season off as I do not feel it is fair to my club to be relegated without being allowed the full season to fight for our survival.
“About the wage cuts, its sad to see, but it’s necessary. It will definitely be interesting to see who sticks around.”
Moving south of the border, England have arguably been plunged into a bigger and darker hole than Scotland. Liverpool, who are a whopping 25 points clear at the top of the English Premiership table and are on the brink of winning their first league title in 30 years. Now, they may have to wait a little bit longer for the silverware that they are desperate to get their hands on.
Unlike their national enemies, there have been a couple of confirmed cases inside Premiership clubs in England, with Arsenal manager Mickel Arteta and Chelsea winger Callum Hudson-Odoi both being diagnosed with the virus.
I caught up with Chelsea loyal Billy Clark, who follows his side everywhere they go, and he had even booked to go to Bayern Munich before the game was cancelled.
He said: “The Coronavirus has affected me as I was going out to Germany to watch Bayern Munich vs Chelsea in the Champions League round of 16. I was booked to fly out from Gatwick to Stuttgart, then I had paid to go via Flixbus to Munich on the Wednesday for the game and back again on Thursday for my flight back. Chelsea refunded my match ticket (£51) but I can’t get a refund for my flights nor my Flixbus travel. So, I’m out of pocket, fortunately my hotel was free cancellation so I cancelled that. Most of my mates I know are still travelling out there anyway! The Chelsea supporters club saw Man U offered to reimburse their supporters some money for everything so I believe they are trying to communicate with Chelsea to try and organise something for our fan base who was going to travel. I’m on the UEFA away scheme at Chelsea so I book travel as soon as a UEFA fixture gets announced otherwise prices skyrocket. I also participate in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and was competing in a competition in Holland next month but now that’s been cancelled and I’m out of pocket again for the flights and train travel!
“Chatting about what he believes the outcome should be, Billy said: “I personally don’t think they should restart the season; they should just leave it how it is, Liverpool Champions, CL and EL qualification the same. Just a relegation playoff for the bottom three, but like the Scottish system where second team in the Championship get involved and whoever is in first gets promotion.
“Champions league would be best for Chelsea! At the start of the season we believed we were going to be woeful as we are in a transition period with a new inexperienced manager. We lost main first team players like Hazard and are giving the youth a go”
As mentioned beforehand, some clubs rely on gate revenue and unfortunately it seems that National League side Barnet FC are seriously struggling during this difficult time. They have fired every single one of their staff members from the pieman to the manager. I spoke to a rather unhappy Charlie Sears, who filled me in with the disastrous news from the Hive.
He said: “The Coronavirus has affected Barnet in what many would say is a very drastic way, which has resulted in us having to fire every single employee at the club. It has also affected the league as some teams were beginning to gather a bit of momentum and have now been put out of their rhythm. Its nothing short of disastrous as we can’t afford to pay any employee’s and for the last 12 months, we’ve lost over £100,000 a month and I’m worried we may be part-time soon or at worst I may not even have a club to support in a months’ time. The one thing that I and the other fans are hoping for is that our manager Darren Currie will stay at the club, as we absolutely love him. He has created such a family atmosphere between the fans, players and coaching staff. There is only one way to sort this mess and it is to get a new owner, TK OUT!
Jumping across the water to the Emerald isle, we are hit with a similar situation once again as many of the smaller part-time teams continue to struggle. However, the Premiership division and First division is played in the autumn and summer months, therefore the season has only recently got underway. This season saw the biggest ever crowd in Irish league history as 7,522 fans packed inside the Tallaght Stadium for Shamrock Rovers v Dundalk. That game produced one of the best strikes of a football I have ever seen and has surely won goal of the season in Ireland already.
I spoke to Finn Harps fan, Connor McGinty as well as Bray Wanderers fan Gareth Danaher.
Connor Said: “On a personal level it’s hard to keep boredom away, sitting at home during the nights not able to move, only able to cross the border into Northern Ireland for work, somehow still at work surprisingly thanks to Boris and co. Living in the republic working in Northern Ireland. My beloved Finn harps are probably the most strained of the premier division clubs constantly fighting relegation battles year upon year, unsure of their divisional status for the forthcoming season.
“Financially we’re caught, having to let players go and sign local lads who don’t demand as much financially. Geographically were caught, up north with no jobs and unable to provide the attraction being a part time club and now with the virus were going to be caught without a crowd and crucial income; which undoubtedly is our biggest stream of income, pulling an average of approx. 1000 spectators last year and that still makes us a loss given wages, licensing costs etc. In order for us to deal on a normal basis we run half time lotto’s to raise a minimal amount then have no choice but to try big prize draws with donations of holidays to Dubai from sponsors etc! It’s a volunteer-based club and that ranges from programme sellers to media distribution you name it, people for passion and passion for people!”
Gareth Said: It’s going to affect the Irish league massively as we don’t have the funding like the Premier League or the European leagues. Drogheda United have already stopped paying players and the FAI are meant to be releasing a statement soon about scrapping the league for this season. Apparently, they are planning to drop the affiliation fees too so clubs who don’t have big budgets will survive
“Bray Wanderers, the team I support is dealing with it quite well in the early stages of the Coronavirus outbreak, but within the next three to four weeks it will be vital as we’ll need all the money we can get despite our owners having a big backing. Supporters are buying tickets for the “upcoming games” and will remain valid for the rearranged fixtures. Old programmes are being bought too which have always been a great seller even before the virus started. The online club shop still remains open so hopefully it’ll be all good with Bray and the League of Ireland.”
Personally, I don’t think we have really heard much from the other European countries around the world and how the Coronavirus is affecting their leagues and clubs, so I took the opportunity to speak to fans from all around Europe to find out their views on the deadly virus and how it is affecting their club and league.
Firstly, we will start in beautiful Belgium, where I spoke to Jordi Struys, who supports the oldest team in the continent, Royal Antwerp.
He said: “We were 29 games in, with just one to go in the regular season when the corona crisis hit. For my team we had one home game left and we were sitting in fourth place. First it was discussed that the game would go ahead but without spectators, but after a day or two the rules became stricter, and the games were cancelled outright. More importantly, we reached our first cup final since 1992, against our biggest rivals Club Brugge. We were looking forward to this for weeks, but when the final league game was cancelled, the cup final, normally played next Sunday, the 22nd. (earlier than normal this year because of EURO 2020), was also postponed indefinitely.
“There is not a huge outcry from the fans as the consensus here was that public health was the first priority. When the coronavirus first reared its head, the fans were quite defiant. It was only last week that most fans were hoping for the game to go ahead, things changed rapidly though, and now the country is a virtual lock down, so the cup final is far from everyone’s mind.
“We will know more about the way ahead, the Belgian FA waited on the decision to postpone EURO 2020 to start thinking about how they should go ahead. There are basically three scenarios’ right now: playing only the last league game and no playoffs, and the cup final at a later date (with or without fans) and the league standing after the last league game would be the final league standing. The second option: restarting the season at a later date and playing all games as originally planned, this would mean playing deep into June, which would likely cause problems for the next season as they have to start again by the end of July. The last option is a ‘play of light’ with less games, not a likely option as most teams don’t seem to like this scenario.
“For my club, the cup final is obviously the most important remaining game. I would personally be fine with just playing the last league game (we can’t drop to fifth, but can jump up to second or third, if the results go our way. The two teams ahead of us have easy games, but who’s to say how teams are going to come out of this long period of no training?). Fourth place already guarantees us European football and while I wouldn’t like to be a team that looks to benefit from this crisis. If that’s the way the FA chooses to go, it means we won’t be too angry about not playing the playoffs. I personally think it’s unrealistic to be planning 10 plus games this week, to be played in May and June, when we have absolutely no idea how and when this is going to end. What if halfway through these playoffs the crisis starts up again, then we’ll have an even bigger problem to settle the league in a fair fashion.”
As we move across the border, we arrive in Netherlands. I spoke to a friend of mine, Nort van Schayik. In my most recent trips before the Coronavirus outbreak , I travelled to Eindhoven to watch PSV v Feyenoord, which was a trip to remember.
He Said: “The Dutch football has come to a halt after advise from different healthcare organizations to stop sporting events. At first the local county of Noord-Brabant forbid all professional football games and three days after, the Dutch FA suspended all football games (including the lower amateurs) until 31 of March. This period has already been extended to 6th of April and it is likely that this will be again extended. Last week they already decided to postpone the Dutch cup final, which should have been played on Sunday 19th April.
“In the Dutch Eredivisie there are eight fixture rounds to be played. Only one of these where planned midweeks, but as all Dutch clubs are already out of Europe and don’t need to play any cup games, there is some space to play games midweeks. Although at the end of the season there is general a small play-off scheme between numbers four till seven for one Europa League spot and number 16 of the Eredivisie is playing relegation games with the second division.
“Of course there have been talks about the coming future, but basically all options are still open. The most likely scenario is that the league will restart at the beginning of May with or without fans at the stadium. The Dutch amateur leagues are further behind as they should have normally been playing until the end of May for there league fixtures and concluding with some promotion/relegation play-off battles.
“On the financial side, some clubs are battling to survive this crisis, but this mainly averts to the smaller clubs in the second division. So far no club in the Eredivisie has announced big financial troubles, although the Dutch government offers companies/organizations to fill-up the wages of the people up to 90% in case companies/organization aren’t able to cope on their financial duties.”
Germany next, where I got a fantastic insight of life in the fourth tier of German football from Welsh expat David O’Gorman as well as an update from Borussia Dortmund fan, Yosh Beinstart.
David Said: “I am a Rot Weiss Essen fan living in Essen Germany. We play in Regional West tier four. It was announced last week that the game scheduled for last Saturday v Schalke U23 was to be played behind closed doors. Then on Friday the West German football association postponed games weeks 29 and 30, so next game is scheduled for 27th March v Borussia Mönchengladbach U23. This may change. Currently in Essen it is advised all pubs and restaurants are on lockdown. The current Coronavirus stats in Germany are 7689 confirmed cases 20 deaths and 67 recovered. Nord Rhein Westphalia, which is my region is the most highly populated in Europe therefore it can spread easily. German Bundesliga has currently postponed fixtures until April 2nd. This covers Bundesliga one and two.”
Yosh Said:” The first time I was concerned about Coronavirus was the derby of my club Dortmund against Schalke. A derby without spectators is no derby, especially Dortmund v Schalke. The history started in 1940 between the two clubs, when Schalke were the number one club and Dortmund found it hard to compete for a couple of years . In the 1940’s roughly after the war is where the tables turned that Schalke started to loose out and loose their reign of supremacy and there was respect based on neighbouring cities, but then in the 70’s and 80’s the rivalries with the fans started. There’s a lot of people in the area, and the older generation is where the love hate relationship began. In earlier years however it was more respectful. Two weeks ago, Borussia Dortmund were in Paris to play PSG in the Champions League. This was played behind closed doors( even though fans still travelled to the French capital and watched from outside the stadium). “
Trying to be as inclusive as possible and give the best coverage possible I also profiled a few other interesting clubs in lesser highlighted leagues to get a greater understanding of the situation worldwide!
Starting off with Poland, where I spoke to the Northern Irish man living in Poland, the one and only Jonny Blair.
Jonny Said: “In Poland I support Klub Piłkarski Starogard Gdański (fourth tier, play in green) and Legia Warszawa. When the Polish government announced the first Coronavirus (COVID-19) case in early March 2020, it was in Zielona Gora, a western city which doesn’t have a football team in the high divisions. For just under a week, football went fairly unaffected here in Poland. In fact, the Poland national ladies team beat Moldova 5-0 on Saturday 7th March in front of 2,500 supporters at Polonia Stadium. The following evening saw 25,000 attend the top of the table clash between last year’s champions Piast Gliwice and current leaders Legia Warszawa. That was an action-packed match on Sunday 8th March. Piast won the game 2-1 and sit second behind Legia. Little did we know that it would be the last league match for a while. The midweek cup matches were played behind closed doors, meaning that two teams are already into the semi-finals. The other two quarter finals remain unplayed. This means that Lechia Gdansk (last year’s cup winners, who beat Piast Gliwice 2-1) are safely into the semi-finals, as are Cracovia (who needed extra time to oust GKS Tychy). The other quarter finals had to be postponed, and at short notice, all top division football was suspended as of Friday 13th March 2020.
“Some lower level non-league matches have been on as normal, but in general Polish people have adhered strictly to the government’s “zostan w domu” (stay at home) campaign to prevent the spread. Outside of Poland, AFC Bournemouth goalkeeper Artur Boruc self-isolated after contracting the disease and Sampdoria player Bartosz Bereszyński has also publicly announced that he contracted the virus. The Polish FA have yet to make any further announcements as to when the league may restart again.
“Polish teams have multiple income sources such as bars, restaurants, tennis, basketball, handball teams. Most of these multiple income sources will also come to a halt during the crisis so sponsorship continuation and government funding will be essential in many cases to keep clubs alive.
“For a club like Klub Piłkarski Starogard Gdański, the stadium is the city stadium managed with the help of the local council. In such well-maintained towns and cities, it is expected to take a short-term financial hit but survive thanks to the local communities and council’s intervention. All leagues need to be finished in the interests of fairness. The plan is to finish the current season once the Coronavirus risk dies down. One potential negative impact on Polish football and the economy is the postponement (and potential cancellation) of the 2020 Europa League Final. This is due to take place in Gdańsk at the end of May. Local people in Gdańsk plus airports, hotels, restaurants and bars were looking forward to the buzz of hosting this match (potentially Inter Milan v Manchester United) and the revenue potentials from it.”
It wouldn’t be possible to write this article without including arguably the most affected European country which is Italy. I spoke to a very good friend of mine Diego Balotti. The story behind how Diego supports Hamilton is nothing short of incredible, but his Italian team is Brescia FC.
A seriously worried Diego told me: “On the 21st February I went to the stadium to watch the match of Brescia-Napoli. There was about ten thousand people, but we haven’t idea of what could happen late. Today I’m almost isolated at home and I can’t move anywhere except to the workplaces or in case of emergency. The corona virus in my region expanded in about 10 days and now there are more than 100 new verified cases per day. But we know that the number of involved people is higher because they have the symptoms but the hospitals don’t do the swabs, as they should. I usually go to the swimming pool, but for two weeks it has been closed, like the other sport centres and we can’t go there until 3rd April, or maybe later. Serie A too, as the other championships, had to stop the games and now we don’t know how is going to finish the season. Fortunately, I live in a mountainous area and I can go alone for a walk and this makes me feel better.
“To sum up, I want to tell you that you should pay attention even if the virus is not yet expanded in Lanarkshire and in general in Scotland. The situation can become like Italy in a really short period of time and I suggest you take precautions.”
Nevertheless, their Swiss counterparts are also hugely effected, a team who have surprised everyone this year, Servette FC would feel unfairly treated having gave an outstanding performance up to now. I spoke to club blogger, Peter Horath regarding the unbelievable run his team have had and the effect this is now having in the Super league!
Peter Said: “My team is Servette FC, which is based in Geneva, Switzerland. As a newly promoted team, Servette was on a surprisingly good run in the end of 2019 and early 2020 (after winter break). The team overtook FC Zurich and was classed as fourth of the Super League. Our last official game was away to FC Basel, Switzerland’s best club for the last 10-15 years. Basel lead 2-0 at half time, with Servette equalising in the 87th minute with a screamer from our best player – Miroslav Stevanonic.
“After that game, there were rumours of measures against COVID-19. Surprisingly, the Swiss government stopped the league immediately for three weeks. At first, everybody thought about some games behind closed doors. (And Servette supporters were hoping for a short break, because we could have climbed a bit further up the table.) But the situation changed dramatically, when corona infections rose drastically.
“Last week, the Swiss Football League decided to move all other games in March/April to an undefined date. The main reason was, that most of the clubs in Switzerland’s top three tiers might go into serious financial trouble (probably administration), when the season would end now. Really annoying is the situation for Basel in Euro League. They won the 1/8-final away game against Eintracht Frankfurt 3-0.
“The current standings in Swiss football are quite delicate. St. Gallen with the youngest team (starting 11 – approx. 21 years old) leads the table. With the same amount of points, but a worse goal difference, Young Boys are second. They were champions in the last two years. Five points behind these teams you will find Basel, which is three points ahead of Servette. A lot of neutral fans would love to see St. Gallen becoming champion, as they play very attacking and entertaining football.
“The main issue is that in Swiss league, every team plays four teams against each other. If the Swiss FA decides to stop the season now, they have to use the winter table for the official standings. This means that Young Boys would be champions, Basel finishes 2nd, St. Gallen 3rd and Zurich 4th. St. Gallen would drop out of the Champions League qualifiers, whilst Zurich and Basel who were struggling after winter break, would qualify for a higher EL qualification round (Basel) / qualify for the EL qualifiers (Zurich). Servette and St. Gallen would be the losers of this scenario. At the bottom of the league, FC Thun would be relegated in current standing, as well as in winter standing. But the main issue is that Thun invested a lot money in winter. They beat Basel away and lost only one game. They are on such a good run, that everyone expects them to overtake Neuchatel Xamax at least in two rounds (they are now equal in points).
“In Challenge League (second tier) Lausanne-Sport would merit to get promoted. They are miles away from FC Vaduz (Liechtenstein teams play in Swiss leagues). But as Grasshoppers Zurich finished second in winter (second is allowed to play play-offs against ninth of Super League), nobody welcomes to end the season here as well. These are our main issues in football. (by the way – the Hockey season was ended before play-offs).
“From tomorrow onwards, Switzerland has a lockdown similar to other countries in Europe. Borders will be closed for tourists and all private events were prohibited. It’ll be only allowed to go to work, buy food or leave the house for helping other people in risk groups. These rules were implemented till at least 30th April. It will be interesting to see, if these actions are successful. The virus spreads around the whole country.
“From my personal view, at only 26 years of age, I am not afraid of the virus. But as the situation in general minds is probably underestimated, I agree with these restrictions. (a lot of people were going out last weekend, even though night clubs were closed -everyone organised themselves) Personally, I try to avoid contact with people that are in risk groups. But as I currently work in home office, this is quite easy. Finally, my groundhopping plans were also affected. I wanted to visit some friends in Exeter and watching the Devon derby next Monday. Furthermore, we have booked an Easter trip with three games in the Netherlands and we had tickets for the Euro.’s”
There was some breaking news on Thursday in Switzerland, stating that FC Sion club owner Christian Constantin has terminated the contracts of players without notice after they failed to agree to a pay-cut in time.
Speaking about the situation, Peter said: “In Switzerland there is a law for people who mustn’t go to work, getting their insured salary paid by governmental unemployed-insurance. this law was for employees with undetermined contracts only. Christian Constantin, head of FC Sion (a crazy guy), now applied that insurance for paying the salaries for all players.
“As it will end at a court, he asked all his staff, if they agree with his measures. Some of their top players rejected this offer, as the maximum monthly salary they’d get is only around CHF 12’400.-. If the club has to pay them, they will get their full salary. Constantin was not accepting this behaviour, as his club might run into serious financial problems. Therefore, he sacked everyone who refused with immediate order.”
Skiing to the slopes of Austria next, I spoke to Marl Armberger, who support SK Rapid Vienna.
He Said: “The Austrian leagues are stopped down to the lowest levels, even training is not allowed! SK Rapid Vienna is the team I support and luckily, they are one of the “richer” teams in Austria, and they should hopefully overcome the financial issues due to Coronavirus. Since they are one of the bigger clubs with a lot of people working for it, its guessed that when they don’t play the league to its end, we will lose about 6 Million euros which is a lot money in Austrian football, But it shouldn’t ruin the club! There are a lot of smaller clubs in Austria who may struggle as they are not getting any TV money. At the moment the season is paused until May, but maybe they will start it again but I can’t say at the moment.
“For me as a Fan, if they can’t play the season till the end, there should be no Champion, because I think emotional it’s not the same as you win a whole season. Here in Austria, we are before the playoff rounds, so every team played everyone twice and maybe it’s fair to take the table as it is at the moment, if they can’t go on. For Rapid Vienna, I guess, financially it would be better if they could play the whole season. We are third at the moment and I think that’s where we would at the end of the season anyway.
“Finally, for me as a member of the club, watching almost every home game and a lot of away games, it would be very hard if I can’t go to the stadium for such a long time.”
In both Norway and Iceland, leagues were due to start at the beginning of April. I spoke to two semi-pro’s Tom Whitehead and Erik Kippernes to see how the Coronavirus outbreak will affect them.
Tom plays in the fourth division of Iceland, while Erik plays in the fifth tier of Norwegian football.
Tom Continued: “Since I play in the fourth division here, that is how this is affecting me the most Everything has been shut down for 30 days, so the league cup (Lengjubikar – which is like a pre-season cup) has been cancelled after only one game played, the Mjolkbikar (Icelandic FA Cup) due to start first week of April has been postponed. The leagues were due to start at the end of April, but I highly doubt that will happen. But for me the biggest thing is the training – the football was my main social thing here, as an ex-pat, so not being able to meet up with the team twice a week is a loss, and of course fitness will suffer.
“I’m not too sure how the clubs in the top tiers are feeling it, as the attendances are honestly pretty low here anyway. Most income comes from the European competitions or player sales, so probably feeling the pinch less so than in England. Financially, we have very little in the way of income. Our games are free of charge to enter at this level, most the funding comes from KSÍ (Icelandic FA) and the players themselves pay around £100 in at the start. At 4. Division level, very few are actually on a salary, especially at the bottom teams (it’s the lowest division in Iceland) and if m they are, they’ll be on little more than £90/week at max. All the guys have other jobs, which are being variously affected – some freelance journos who are doing good at the moment, some bartenders who are at risk.
“The upside of this of course is that, no, I don’t see this financially affecting the clubs at this level directly – all we lose out on is training sessions where we’ve already paid for pitch rental – maybe it’s different at the top teams who came down from division 3 but I’m not sure.
“Regarding the actual games and their likelihood of being played. The season was due to start beginning of May, and I would say if they can get it to start by mid-June it’ll go ahead as planned, just delayed. They’ll of course have to forgo the league cup (Lengjubikar) which is little more than a pre-season warm up cup anyway, and maybe the Mjolkbikar will be lost too, to ease fixture congestion (this is more important, winner of this qualifies for Europa league qualifiers – another big source of income for the top clubs here) but the place will probably go to the next lowest in the league (1 team in CL qualifiers, 3 in EL qualifiers). They say games can’t really be played in Iceland after September, due to weather turning in October and lights, but we also start our pre-season games in like January/February when the weather is truly shit, so I think worst comes to worst, it can be done, but maybe they’ll have to change the location of some of the games (some stadiums don’t have floodlights, others have grass pitches which succumb easier to weather).”
Oceans apart but similar scenarios, Erik said: “I am playing in the lower leagues of Norway for fifth tier side IL Averøykameratene. The season should have started 20th of April, but I don’t think that will happen of Norway and we have full stop of training and matches until the end of May, so the pre-season is now stopped. My favourite club Molde have cancelled their pre-season trip to Marbella.
“The Norwegian Leagues were supposed to start April 4th, but is now supposed to start in the middle of May. “The lower leagues are just a hobby in Norway from the third tier. Molde are doing fine, they have made some very good player sales from the last season. Norway is almost in lockdown. Almost everything is closed, and if you go from the most dangerous areas in the city, you get 14 days of quarantine at your home.
“The sales for Molde are what could keep us going financially during this tough time. We have had high transfer fees coming for the fantastic talent of Erling Braut Haaland– Salzburg for 8million, Leo Østigård-Brighton for 5million and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to Manchester United for approximately 5million also. Today Molde permitted the office staff until the start of the season, but players and staff around the senior squad are keeping their jobs.”
To conclude Corona on the continent, we land in the stunning coastline of Malta where I spoke to Birkirkara FC supporter Phillip Abela.
He Said: “Well, as in most other countries especially in Europe, all football competitions, even the amateur ones, have been temporarily suspended. Initially the authorities ordered to have matches played behind closed doors, but there was an outcry from various stakeholders (mainly players, coaches and referees who voiced their concerns through their respective associations) to cancel proceeding. Officially the local leagues had a couple of matchdays postponed, but presumably we will have further postponements until health authorities suggest that it is safe enough to get the ball rolling again.
“Clubs have also decided to avoid training activities as a team, and players are trying to keep themselves fit individually. This will of course take its toll on the match fitness of the players, coaches and physical trainers’ fitness. There will be a huge headache in order to ensure that everyone is in his best possible shape when competitions resume. Clubs are also cursing this delay as, in some cases foreign players are paid till their last game played. This means that the longer it will take to complete this season’s fixtures, the larger the payroll that would need to be honoured by clubs.
“As one might imagine, Maltese clubs are not self-sufficient as they do not generate enough income to cover their expenses (hopefully this is going to change thanks to commercialisation laws), thus the clubs’ efforts to keep costs as low as possible will be completely undermined by this situation. Finally, there’s us supporters, those who week in week out go to the football ground to support their local team. The most fervent ones, who are already looking forward to the next game as soon as the referee blows the final whistle, are the worst hit. We are missing going to football matches badly…we just hope this is over the earliest possible.
“It is quite premature for one to tell whether the health situation will improve soon enough for the season to be continued. The next two/three weeks will give us a clearer picture. Everyone’s hope is that the season is completed, as that would mean other and more important good news. In case this cannot be done, I believe that the league should not be assigned and the current top 4 teams in the table are eligible to compete in the CL and EL respectively. It Would be a pity for my team as Birkirkara played a great second round till now, only dropping 4 points in two draws, and 4th place is just two points away. Still I think that would be the fairest decision.
“On the other hand, with regards to relegation, since bottom club Tarxien were already mathematically doomed, I would relegate them and promote the current first division leaders, with no further relegations and promotions since the leagues are not completed. Might seem unfair for a couple of teams who are chasing promotion, but there is no decision that pleases all. Clubs in Malta merely rely on gate money, as the amounts are just a few thousand euros. This will have a negligible effect on them.”
Personally, I would like to thank everyone who helped contribute to this article, and I apologise to people whose quotes I didn’t use. This was purely down to the phenomenal response I had, which I was expecting at all.
This is a difficult time for everyone and it is vital that we all stick together and hopefully our game will be back sooner than later.
Stay safe and be kind,