COVID-19 has halted football all across the UK. Perhaps the nation most effected by the disease in footballing terms has been Wales. The Welsh Premier League is the only league in the FAW that has commenced their 2020/21 season. Behind closed doors, the top division teams have played up to 7 games already. Just as in the English Premier League, goals have been flying in and competitive football is back in Wales – albeit taking maximum precautions regarding Covid-19.
However, unlike in England, the leagues below the country’s finest have been left with no game time and no clear answers as to when their seasons will start, if at all. The FAW, under the advice of the Welsh government, are very restricted in what they can do to get football back throughout Wales. Given that two thirds of Wales is in lockdown, football simply can’t fully return in the Cymru South and below. Whereas in England, many areas are not experiencing local lockdowns and so have started their seasons, even allowing fans back in the lower leagues.
We’ve seen the differing impacts in Wales and England on football with Merthyr Town. The Martyrs, who play in the 7th tier of English football, had to suspend their season in the Southern League Premier Division along with forfeiting their Fa Cup tie against Poole. In a club statement the South Welsh side highlighted the financial issues they face as a result of the pandemic and stated that the option to suspend their season was to “preserve the long term viability of the club.”
Having seen the struggles that Merthyr face, it’s clear that the financial aspect of football is critical to all of the clubs throughout Wales.
The FAW also have to consider the rule that only 30 people can gather in outdoor events. This means any sort of football match in Wales including 11 players and 1 sub, one coach, a COVID-19 officer, and a first aider each would be impossible as a referee would make 31 people on the pitch.
Maybe the Coach or First Aider could also be the Covid-19 officer.
The FAW did consider this, and on the week commencing 21st September, phase 3 for a “safer return to play” was implemented. There were 6 stages planned. Stage 1 – 4 ensured that training and intra-club training matches were resumed.
On the 19th October, stage 5 is scheduled to begin. Stage 5, which could yet change, will see friendly matches introduced.
Local lockdown restrictions will still apply meaning there can only be 30 people involved in all matches. Furthermore, the Ardal Southern League will allow friendlies, taking various measures:
As per the ruling there can only be 30 people in the ground.
Teams can only play each other if both are inside the same local authority.
Only 1 substitute will be allowed.
All players, officials, first aiders and officers must also live in the local authority to be elligable for the friendly.
Games will be time limited and the friendlies will be played for an initial 3 week period.
Various teams across Wales are organising friendlies and all are looking forward to football returning, despite there being no spectators permitted.
It may not be much, and there are frustrations around the FAW’s plan, however these friendlies could be vital to the fitness of the players. We’ve seen the impacts of having not enough of a preseason on even the most elite league in England.
However, the plan does edge us closer to stage 6 – the return of league competitions. (Which is still to be confirmed by the FAW). Let’s hope for a smooth and safe 3 weeks of football that could move us much closer to the beginning of our 2020/21 season in Wales.