It’s been eight years since a ball was kicked professionally in England. Prime Minister Tyson Fury has issued an “all clear” from Covid-19 and the beautiful game is about to dust off its shoulders and rise from the waiting area it has been sat in, since March 2020.
Everybody underestimated the virus. Jokes about light beer and re-writing the Knack hit single “My Sharona” were ill-judged.
Thirty per cent of the world’s population contracted Covid-19, with half of those not surviving, but Britain, as an island stayed reasonably clear, the loss of Boris Johnson the only notable casualty. Football was suspended temporarily but no-one saw a seven-season hiatus to follow the early pause of the 19/20 season.
The game will not look the same come August 5th, of the 91 professional clubs, forty have folded, simply unable to continue financing player contracts, let alone staffing clubs with no need for people.
Rochdale was the first to go, their business plan could not support the sudden lack of funds, no ticket sales, nothing to sponsor, no revenue. Twitter confirmed their demise on what would have been Christmas Day 2020.
The highest-profile clubs to go included most of the foreign-owned brands, with their oligarchs and tycoons retreating to their homelands, Manchester City, Chelsea and Bournemouth found wages alone could not be supported. Leicester and Wolverhampton struggled for a while but slipped away once their long term contracted players had to give in on the ‘sporting drea; a champagne lifestyle cannot be supported on lemonade wages, let alone no money at all!
The best place to be was found to be coastal, outposts, away from the Populus. Norwich took an early gamble, with their wage bill being considerably lower. Delia Smith decided early in the lockdown to sell Carrow Road to a development firm, looking to build quarantine facilities. Norfolk. being devoid of good transport links, made the fine city ideal. Delia relocated the Canaries to ground share with Great Yarmouth, funding a new-build project as and when they felt necessary.
Seven seasons is a lifetime in football, even the young talent found themselves unemployed. In a world where survival is the only objective, kicking the ball is not CV material. Education, education, education the only progress on the cards now.
When Prime Minister Fury declared the all-clear, the first social commentator had to be Jeff Stelling, instantly renewing his Soccer Saturday 6 gambling game. The problem being the form was unrecognisable. The quickly reformed FA, led by Gary Lineker and Rio Ferdinand, decreed that any team registering as a professional team would claim their original league place vacated in 2020, then compacted to create two and a half leagues, the remaining places could be put out to tender, or franchise if you prefer.
The Premier League, to be rebranded as Pheonix League included a largely intact roster, losing the five mentioned, as well as Aston Villa, not for football reasons. Yet, because Birmingham had been declared a no-go zone, Leeds, Fulham, Forest, Brentford, Bristol and league originals Preston making up the numbers. (West Brom being part of the Birmingham zone)
The top of the Ashes League, (Championship) would have been Millwall, but two clubs ‘claimed’ their heritage, The Den, and New Den both having gone, and typically, neither Millwall would back down. In the end, an agreement to allow both teams to sign up, with neither being called Millwall met with hostility and they were expelled from the FA.
The remaining clubs filled the places as expected, but with the expulsion of Millwall, ten new teams were required, With all welsh teams folding, three places were offered to the nation, typically, they wanted four, so accepted two, North and South Wales, both claiming the spaces vacated by Cardiff an Swansea.
Manchester-based Bury FC took a place too, as did Cornwall County although they had to agree to a ground share with Devon survivors Plymouth Argyle. Peculiarly, Blackpool, Fleetwood and Morecambe all combined to form Blackmore-Fleet, playing their games at Bloomfield Road.
Coventry, once without a home was allowed to become Coventry Wanderers, using whichever stadia they saw fit, and purchase of Leicester City’s ground went down particularly well in the East Midlands.
— Part two to include the First Matchday back.