Lockdown wrap: Analysis of League 1’s paralysis

I went to America a few years ago, flying into Boston Logan Airport we arrived around lunchtime. Feeling jaded, we headed over to pick up our hire car. In a tightly packed multi-story car park, we were shown to our new whip. It was a Qashqai, although the Americans feel the need to give it a bit of good ole’ American machismo by calling it a Rogue Sport. Grrr. 

Assuring the attendants that we were very experienced drivers we swerved their offer of a demonstration of the car. Inside, alone, we surveyed the cockpit; the car had no key, no gears and no handbrake. We turned the engine on with a button, then proceeded to push buttons and tug at levers in attempt to make the thing move. No matter what we did, it simply wouldn’t engage or move forward, so we had to sheepishly recall the attendants to show us round. 

“You can actually drive, sir?” one said. 

This is the fourth Lockdown Wrap and had been earmarked as one to look at what we might have learned from this period and how football might change in the longer term. I had assumed we’d be on some kind of glide path to resuming the season.

And yet, like sitting in that Rogue Sport, regardless of the buttons we press, the league seem incapable of moving forward. Is that in gear? No, it’s the windscreen wipers.

Let’s recap – last week the EFL issued their framework for resolution – quite simply, the league resumes or it will be curtailed with the retention of all relegation, promotion and the play-offs. To agree this, 51% of clubs would need to vote for it. So far, so late, so good.

Then on Friday, a week later, they resorted to type; the clubs had provided feedback on the proposals and now there would need to be a regulation change, which they would need to be agreed on the 8 June.

Into the void came yet another club with another ‘solution’. This time from Tranmere Rovers who are threatened with relegation. Their idea was, on top of a points-per-game system, a margin of error should be applied. if you sit outside that margin of error, you’re invited to take part in the play-offs regardless. That makes some sense, it starts to address Peterborough’s prime gripe, which is that their points haul to date is low because of how their fixtures have fallen. Crucially with the Tranmere, while they are all for applying this to promotion which doesn’t affect them, it shouldn’t apply to relegation, which does.

This looks like a brazen attempt to win votes from teams at the top with the specific objective of saving them from relegation. It also hides the fact that according to my rough calculations, historically teams are more likely to fall away towards the end of the season than they are to surge. So despite Peterborough’s assurances that the best is yet to come, they are statistically more likely to fall away.

You might assume that 10 weeks ago the EFL would have realised a regulations would need to be change. It wouldn’t be hard to insert a rule which allowed an alternative approach to resolving the season in the event of a significant problem.

You might also think that by now the EFL would realise beyond playing, there is no wholly accurate and fair resolution and what you’re looking for is the next best solution. Every option has a margin of error, but perfect solutions are not what we’re trying to find. A reasonable, if flawed, pathway forward is.

So, the earliest this is set to be resolved is the 8th June, which given the preparation time needed to get players back up to fitness, pushes any resumption deeper into the summer. 

Players are already being tested across the Football League for CoVid19 in preparation for some kind of resumption. Seventeen positive tests were returned across the Championship and League 2 last week, League 1 isn’t even involved. 

So, the bickering continues to kick the issue down the road, making the prospect of a full resumption increasingly unlikely. If the season does need to be curtailed, the EFL are backed into a corner, which will only increase the prospects of arguments. All the while, the EFL are sat in their hire car jabbing at the radio trying to turn on the headlights.

Originally, I thought I’d be writing about the longer-term prospects of us as a club and the league we play in or perhaps arguing the case for re-starting where there are doubts. Given the last few weeks it would seem that only government intervention can release the game from the grip of incompetence and self-interest. Given the bumbling administration currently in place at Westminster, you have to wonder if we’ll make it off the parking lot before the holiday is over.  

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Oxblogger

Oxblogger is a blog about Oxford United.

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