We hope you are all safe and healthy.
We keep hearing in the news that this pandemic is an unprecedented situation. And in living memory, clearly it is (not many of us remember the “influenza” pandemic of 1918).
But… I had to ask myself, in the world of sports, and football in particular, is there a precedent for a season interrupted by disease?
The simple answer is no, this is uncharted territory.
But the less simple answer is yes, there are a few examples of seasons being cancelled before they ended (albeit not due to pandemics). I thought maybe history could teach us something about how this will all play out... or maybe not.
History Lesson 1:
Let’s start in England 1939.
England declared war on Germany on September 3, 1939. The teams in top tier English football had played their 3rd but final game of the season the day before. Football wouldn’t start again in England until the 1946-1947 season.
As far as I can tell, there was no league winner declared, which makes sense as much, much, much more important things were at hand. For the record Blackpool was winning the league, with a perfect 6 points (Three wins at two points each. Fun fact: England was the first league to change to 3 points for a win in 1981. Most other leagues didn’t until after the 1994 World Cup used the same point system). Sheffield United, Arsenal and Liverpool rounded out the top 4. Blackburn Rovers, Middlesbrough United and Leeds, were places 20, 21, and 22.
Top tier English football picked up again after the war in 1946 and… Liverpool won the league.
What we learned: It is possible to cancel a season of football in England.
What we really learned: World events can trump football.
History Lesson 2:
While both this current EPL season and the 1939 season had serious and external reasons for canceling a season, the 1994-1995 Major League Baseball season was canceled due to a player strike, of which you could blame many sides.
This was the first time since 1904 that no World Series was played. The World Series continued through both World Wars, but not the player strike of 1994. In this case, the season simply ended. Baseball would pick up again the following season, but some fans never returned.
For the record, “The Montreal Expos’ best season in their history was stopped by the strike. They had the best record in baseball, 74–40, and were six games ahead of the Atlanta Braves in the NL East despite having the second-lowest payroll in MLB” (according to Wikipedia).
Also, Matt Williams (SF Giants, NL) was on a home-run pace to break Roger Maris’ 61-HR MLB season record; his shot at baseball immortality was snuffed out with the season.
What we learned: Seasons can be canceled with no champion, no matter the reason.
What we really learned: One team has to be on top of the table if a season is cancelled. “We picked a bad season to have a good year,” said Ken Griffey, Jr. of Seattle, who also happened to be leading the American league in home runs (also according to Wikipedia).
History Lesson 3:
This isn’t a great parallel but it was the only other season I could find that was canceled. The 2004-05 NHL season was canceled before it was even started. This was due to a “Labor Lockout” which kept the season closed completely. For the first year since 1919, the Stanley Cup was not awarded.
What we learned: Not much.
What we really learned: Most of us can live without professional hockey.
Not so Fun Fact:
Not many Summer Olympics have been cancelled, but world wars did scratch 1916, 1940 and 1944. Those Olympics had been scheduled to happen in Berlin, Tokyo and London respectively. Guess whose 2020 Summer Olympics were just postponed by a year (not cancelled yet)... Tokyo is bitten for a second time. Remember that when we’re allowed to play pub trivia again!
There really is no precedent that I could find in modern football or sports for stopping a season this far in. And honestly, maybe that’s a good thing. Sports, and football especially, are often so reliable, so enjoyable. For those of us reading this, it is one of those things that keeps us going, even when your team finds itself in 9th place. We love the beautiful game and hope it comes back. We will be ready.
Be looking for this article’s follow-up piece, which will be published next week. What if the season does end? What will you do for your fantasy leagues and teams? What real teams will be relegated or promoted?! More conjecture to come!
And if you can think of another sports or other precedent that I missed, please add in the comments below!
Stay safe! Stay healthy! Stay connected!
And speaking of staying connected, be sure to join us for the weekly NMA Virtual Pub Live Chat on Saturday at 1 pm Pacific, 4 pm Eastern, and 9 pm UK!
Do you think the EPL season will continue?
This poll is closed
Yes! of course!
No (but I really hope I’m wrong)
Other (add in the comments)