One of the most underrated days in the football calendar is that early June morning when the coming season’s fixtures are announced. No sooner has the schedule stopped and you’ve told yourself you’re ready for a break, do you find yourself eagerly planning the next nine months of sorrow, joy, pleasure and pain the game will inevitably bring to your life.
As we now know, that won’t be the case this summer. Perversely, the 2019/20 will remain unfinished at this time, possibly without a decision made on its fate. Football is not used to a break in routine, it has gone almost 80 years without having one. Make no mistake, the game is riddled with anxiety and uncertainty, it is a creature of habit now engulfed in discombobulation.
All of this can suddenly feel like too much for one governing body to process and sort. How do you plan for 2020/21 without having sorted 19/20? How do you box-off 19/20 in a manner which ensures there is structure to 20/21? How do you plan for any kind of sustained football when it seems as though it can suddenly be ground to a halt at any moment?
This is only one fraction of the existential crisis now facing the game. How the Premier League addresses this is crucial, as is their mentality when doing so. If the mindset is one of patch-up and make do, then it will surely fail in the long term. There has to be innovation, bravery and a willingness to try new things, and that might mean a change in routine for all of us.
By embracing change, there are things we might find we love. I’ve always been an advocate of watching domestic football through the summer months, for example. That would take some compromise with the likes of FIFA and UEFA, but a season which runs February to November, for example, would be one I would be intrigued to see.
In the more short term, we will watch with intrigue around what changes are made to next season. To ponder another possibility, I can see a situation where teams play within their region for the first quarter of the campaign. Liverpool playing only in the North West of England, London-based teams in the South and so on. That element of patchwork to proceedings now seems unavoidable.
As it is, the days of the calendar now incorporates a sense of loss and longing as opposed to opportunity and reassurance. The smell of freshly cut grass is absent in the face of overgrown weeds and shrubbery. What always was might never be again. That starts with the fixture list, where it ends is anyone’s guess right now.