All professional football in the UK has officially been suspended due to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis.
The Premier League have announced that the 2019/20 season has been postponed until April 3 at the earliest.
It's thought likely that another suspension will be forthcoming, which means there is a huge amount of uncertainty about how the rest of the campaign will pan out. There are even fears, at present unfounded, that it could be declared null and void altogether.
That would present a disaster for champions-elect Liverpool, who are just two wins away from wrapping up their first title in 30 years.
Naturally, the health of everyone involved has to come first, yet there is a general sense of unease and confusion about the whole situation.
GIVEMESPORT have rounded up the big questions fans are asking about the Premier League's decision.
When will the season begin again?
Officially, we're being told football will be back on April 4. In reality, that is unlikely. It's even been claimed there is "no chance" of fixtures taking place that weekend. The Premier League needed to make a snap decision, which is why they have implemented a short-term postponement, but it is almost certainly going to be extended.
There have been warnings that the virus could peak in the summer months, so authorities may have to take a step-by-step approach to assessing the situation.
Why did the Premier League take so long to take action?
The Premier League and Football League were initially relying on government advice. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson held a press conference on Thursday after an emergency Cobra meeting, but declined to ban mass gatherings over 500 people, a measure we've seen in many other countries.
That meant it was in the league's own hands and they will have spent time discussing the interests of players, managers, supporters and broadcasters, as well as various other stakeholders. They also had to convene the Premier League medical group to garner more official advice. The thread below explains the likely reasons for the delay in more detail.
The Premier League said it was business as usual - what changed?
On Thursday night, a Premier League statement insisted games would be going ahead this weekend. That prompted fury from several teams, not least because Leicester had three players showing symptoms and in self-isolation and were due to play Watford on Saturday. Not only was it unsafe for the game to be played, Watford's relegation rivals feared the Foxes would be weakened.
The turning point was Arsenal's announcement that Mikel Arteta has contracted coronavirus. Suddenly, a league meeting was announced for the following day and postponement then became inevitable.
Will Liverpool still be champions?
Almost certainly, yes, provided they win the two necessary games when football returns. The season is still unlikely to be scrapped. A more likely scenario is that Euro 2020 will be pushed back until next year and the summer months used to play out remaining fixtures from this season. Only if the current campaign were threatening to run into 2020/21 would a further discussion need to take place.
Does anyone actually *want* the season to be scrapped?
It's alleged that while most were happy with a delay, Tottenham Hotspur and West Ham wanted the season cancelled.
How will Football League clubs be affected?
Football League clubs could have been in danger of folding if games were played behind closed doors. Premier League clubs get most of their money from TV broadcasting, whereas those in the lower leagues rely heavily on ticket sales. For their sake, it's best that games don't take place at all until crowds are allowed to attend. Several chairmen have warned that their clubs are not insured for freaks of nature like this.
What will happen to fans with tickets?
It will be up to individual clubs how they refund ticket holders for games if they don't take place. They could either offer a full refund, or offer credit towards future purchases. Again, most T&C's don't cover circumstances like a pandemic because it is such a rare phenomenon.
Tickets should still be valid for those fixtures that are postponed until another date.
Has anything like this happened before?
In the modern era, this really is quite unprecedented. The most obvious parallel is when the season was cancelled in 1939 due to the outbreak of World War II. Blackpool fans might sympathise with Liverpool's current plight, as they were top at the time. During the war years, mini 'regional' leagues were played out until the conflict ended and the regular game could return.
What happens to players who are out of contract in the summer?
There are a host of big names whose contracts expire on June 30 - Jan Vertonghen, Willian, David Silva, Adam Lallana, Fernandinho...
Technically, if the season were still going on then, they would not be obliged to play for their clubs. However, they would almost certainly re-negotiate short-term deals.
What's happening in other sports?
Unsurprisingly, football isn't the only sport affected. Cheltenham went ahead, but the NBA season has been suspended. This weekend's Australian Grand Prix is off and the F1 season now won't start until May. England's Test tour of Sri Lanka has been postponed, several Six Nations matches are suspended and boxing, badminton, golf, baseball and athletics have also been hit.
What are other leagues doing?
No European leagues have decided their long-term plan yet. Serie A, which was the first top league to be suspended on the continent, has discussed a number of options if the season had to be scrapped.
They have considered:
- Not assigning the title to any team. Juventus currently lead Lazio by a single point. UEFA would then be informed which teams had qualified for Europe.
- Referring to the table as it stands.
- Introducing a play-off to determine important outcomes such as relegation.
When will the crisis be over?
Much like the wider public health crisis, it's impossible to tell when it will be safe for football to return. At present, UEFA are exploring the possibility of pushing Euro 2020 back until next year (that could have implication for the Nations League finals), in order to free up the summer to finish the regular season.
For now, everyone involved in football can only sit tight, stay safe and hope it is safe to return soon.
- Jurgen Klopp's statement about coronavirus
- The Premier League season has been suspended
- Arsenal confirm Arteta tested positive for COVID-19