BBC reporting that season may be over for League One and Two clubs

May 13, 2020 | News

Scrapping the rest of the season in Leagues One and Two is likely to be the most significant topic for discussion in another week of key meetings in the Football League.

An EFL Board meeting on Wednesday will be followed by a meeting of all Championship clubs – then another involving the 47 clubs from the bottom two leagues.

It is not certain the leagues will be formally ended this week as there are a number of issues that will need to be resolved, not least surrounding promotion and relegation, and the EFL is adamant no decision about the rest of the season has been made.

However, BBC Sport understands there is a general acceptance among clubs that resumption of the season in Leagues One and Two is impossible.

Why has the season got to stop?

Quite simply, money. Or more pertinently, a lack of it.

It is estimated Premier League clubs have agreed to spend a combined £4m on Covid-19 testing alone for their players in order to get the season restarted.

In normal circumstances, finding a sum like that would be a tall order for the lower leagues. In the present climate, it is impossible.

Many clubs have furloughed their players. With no crowds allowed into stadiums for the foreseeable future, it would cost clubs money to stage games.

EFL chairman Rick Parry said 1,400 players across the league’s three divisions were out of contract on 30 June. The majority of those players are in Leagues One and Two.

There is continuing uncertainty over their availability in July, when it was planned for the season to finish, and clubs do not want to run the risk of paying them additional sums when they do not have to. If the season is brought to a premature end, in some instances, clubs will also avoid having to pay additional bonuses and appearance money.

In addition, there is no guarantee clubs in Leagues One and Two will be able to meet the strict medical protocols being put in place for the Premier League.

What will happen next?

If the National League is any guide, the process could take some time.

In normal circumstances, any EFL regulation change requires the majority of the 24 clubs in the Championship to vote in favour, plus the majority of the whole 71-club structure.

This system places significant power with the Championship. However, it could be argued that it should not be so strong in determining the future direction of the leagues below.

As with the rest of the professional game, the EFL is heading into unchartered waters.

If it follows the National League example, it will ask the clubs to vote on whether they wish to end the season first and deal with the logistics of it finishing later.

However, it could also ask clubs for their preferred method of deciding league position. Options include:

  • voiding the season completely – thought to be unlikely
  • using present placings
  • using points-per-game average
  • using weighted points-per-game average, which takes into account the number of home and away games each club has played

Big clubs who know their fate

No matter how the season falls, unless promotion and relegation are abandoned completely, some of England’s most famous names already know their fate.

Sunderland and Ipswich, seventh and 10th in League One respectively when the season was halted, are destined to miss out.

For Sunderland, it will mean a third successive season in the third tier of English football. Ipswich will extend their stay for a second year, the first time that will have happened since 1957, when they were promoted from the old Third Division South.

At the other end of the table, another club will an illustrious recent past, Bolton, will be heading for League Two.

It will be the first time they have played in the fourth tier of English football since 1987-88, which is the only other time they have ever been there. Instead of local derbies against Manchester United and Manchester City, which Bolton were enjoying as recently as 2012, their nearest opponents next season will be Salford City, who, like Bradford, will remain where they are.

League Two is fairly stable, however it is assessed. Crewe, Swindon and Plymouth can be pretty confident of an automatic promotion spot. In League One, Coventry would seem certain to return to the Championship – and an interesting ground-share with Birmingham, who are in the same league.

The battles ahead

Some issues are set to be far more contentious.

Depending on what formula was used to determine league positions in League One, Wycombe, Peterborough or Portsmouth could miss out on a play-off place.

Peterborough owner Darragh MacAnthony has threatened a “legal battle of epic proportions” if a decision was taken to the detriment of his club, who had won seven of their past nine games before the league was stopped, with Posh three points off a top-two slot.

Wycombe have most to gain. If the play-offs were scrapped and points-per-game average implemented, they would move from eighth to third and be heading for the Championship for the first time in their history.

At the bottom of League Two, Macclesfield have already had 11 points deducted for breaching EFL regulations, with a further two suspended to the end of the season, to be triggered if they break the rules again.

If they were taken off, and points-per-game applied, the gap to bottom-placed Stevenage would be less than half a point. Would the EFL be prepared to send Stevenage back into the National League on such a margin – and if that were to be the case, what would it mean for Barrow, nervously waiting to find out if they are to return to the Football League they were booted out of in 1972.

As with so many issues football is dealing with just now, the overall aim for Leagues One and Two is clear. It’s the detail that is incredibly cloudy.