Gary Neville Is Right, The 'Covid-19' Football Postponements Have Got To Stop

The North London Derby is the latest match to be postponed
09:55, 16 Jan 2022

Today, we should have been looking forward to a thrilling North London derby. Instead, we have a gap in the afternoon scheduling. Sure, this is a first world problem, but it is a wider footballing issue that has to be brought to an end. 

Last weekend, the footballing world rejoiced as a complete FA Cup Third Round schedule, with all the trials and tribulations that includes, was played out with no issues or complaints. There were shocks aplenty as Arsenal were dumped out by Nottingham Forest and Newcastle United were beaten by Cambridge, but for one weekend - Covid-19 was barely mentioned in a footballing sense. 

Fast forward seven days and it is absolutely clear that some of these clubs are taking the mick, and using Covid-19 as an excuse to get games postponed when they have injuries or suspensions. Arsenal could have played this match without issue, as they did against Nottingham Forest, but they are just another club that are exploiting the weak rules the Premier League and Football League have put in place. 

"I should've spoken out about this probably three or four weeks ago when Manchester United called their games off," Gary Neville said speaking on Sky Sports ahead of Brighton’s 1-1 draw with Crystal Palace.

"I honestly believe all teams, not just in the Premier League but in the EFL, must be made to play their fixtures. [Florian] Balogun's gone on loan, [Ainsley] Maitland-Niles has gone on loan, [Granit] Xhaka's got a red card — that's not the fault of anyone else, we can't be calling matches off.

"If it was purely down to Covid where they were 10-15 players out, but we're talking about teams with no doubt they've been calling games off because they haven't got the best squad to win the game, it's got to stop.” 

He’s bang on. Burnley, whose game against Leicester was also postponed this weekend, now have five games in hand on some teams in the league, which is only damaging to the integrity of the division, given they will have to make these matches up over the course of a few months. 

Now this was never going to be a perfect Premier League season, that much is clear - but with fans back into the stadiums, it is ridiculous that so many plans are having to be cancelled due to postponements. Especially when, if push came to shove, these fixtures could be played with little to no bother as we saw in the FA Cup.

This isn’t just about Arsenal of course, they are just exploiting a huge loophole in the system, but clubs could come to regret these decisions, and the managers will no doubt be the first to complain about a fixture pile up later in the season. 

Sooner rather than later the screw needs to be tightened, although a rule change in mid-season would cause its own problems. At the very least, next season we need to have a clear and integral season across all of England’s football divisions. 

The FA Cup rules seemed to work for teams at every level. It’s time to make sure they are implemented for league fixtures to put a stop to this unnecessary chaos.

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