A final decision about whether there will be any more matches played in League One’s regular season is likely to be made on Tuesday.
It is almost three months since elite football in England was suspended because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Premier League and Championship teams are preparing for a mid-June restart, non-league sides have already had their campaigns curtailed, while ending League Two at its current point should be a formality as fourth-tier clubs indicated their wish to do so last month.
Reaching a consensus in League One, however, has proved to be much less straightforward.
Agreeing a framework
English Football League clubs are scheduled to vote on a framework of how to settle a curtailed season.
The EFL’s recommendation would see final places decided by an unweighted points-per-game method, with promotion and relegation between divisions and play-offs going ahead.
Several clubs have put forward amendments and alternative frameworks which will also be considered:
- Tranmere want a statistical margin for error applied to the points-per-game method
- Ipswich have suggested further consultation with clubs regarding an alternative play-off format
- Lincoln want points deductions taken into account in points-per-game calculations
- Barnsley want no teams to be relegated at the end of an uncompleted season
- Stevenage want relegation from League Two scrapped if the division votes to end the campaign
Once a framework has been agreed, teams in individual divisions will then vote on whether to continue their season or curtail it, with a majority of 51% needed to end a season early.
Aside from trying to find a fair sporting outcome, there are further complexities to consider, including:
- The financial implications of regularly testing players and staff for coronavirus, taking players off furlough and playing matches behind closed doors
- The issues surrounding players whose contracts are due to end on 30 June
- The time required in training for players to get back to full fitness and complete the outstanding 106 regular-season games
What have the clubs said?
AFC Wimbledon (20th)
AFC Wimbledon are just outside the relegation zone and would be safe based on points per game.
On 23 May, chief executive Joe Palmer told BBC Sport: “We as a club don’t want to do anything that is going to put us in a worse off situation and if playing out the rest of the season does that we would be against it.
“Given what we’ve learned in recent days in terms of the financial implications of playing on and where clubs are at the moment, we’re quite happy with that scenario, that if it were to finish then we’d be quite happy with that.”
Accrington Stanley (17th)
Accrington are eight points clear of the relegation zone.
Stanley chairman Andy Holt has spoken repeatedly of the financial implications of restarting the season and posted on Twitter on 19 May: “When the time comes, if ending the season now is on the list, we will be voting for it.”
Mid-table Blackpool have not said publicly which way they are likely to vote, but chief executive Ben Mansford told BBC Radio Lancashire on 2 June: “The reality now is that I don’t think League One can finish.
“If we decide to return, you need seven days to go through the testing protocols, probably 21 days to get the players in some degree of physical fitness, and then the EFL said you need 56 days to finish the season with play-offs.
“It’s very difficult for League One and League Two clubs to extend contracts beyond 31 July, either financially or because of the overall contractual nexus in our country of how everything sits.
“I think 12 will vote in favour to end the season.”
Bolton Wanderers (23rd)
Bolton, deducted 12 points at the start of the season after going into administration in May 2019, are 21 points from safety.
Wanderers’ board said in a statement on 1 May: “Our focus is the safety of our staff and supporters and we would therefore only support a ‘return to play’ if protocols can be put in place, and adhered to, which ensure everyone’s health is not compromised and there is no additional strain placed on the emergency services.
“We are in a situation where we have very little income coming into the club or (adjoining) hotel, this seems likely to remain for the foreseeable future. It is therefore imperative that we maintain as low a cost base as possible so that we can be in a position to rebuild at the earliest opportunity.”
Bristol Rovers (14th)
Rovers, who are unlikely to be involved in promotion or relegation issues, have not publicly said how they plan to vote.
It was reported in the local media that they may decide in favour of carrying on to give boss Ben Garner, who was appointed in December, more time to assess players and gain more experience in what is his first senior managerial role.
Burton Albion (12th)
Nigel Clough stepped down as Burton manager on 18 May, with the financial implications of coronavirus cited one of the main reasons for his exit.
Soon afterwards, chairman Ben Robinson said continuing the season would be “financially suicidal” and he wanted the campaign to end at its current point.
“I don’t want us to play nine games and fork out £140,000 [for testing] when we’re having to pay our overheads over the coming months when not knowing when next season’s going to start,” he told BBC Radio 5 Live.
“And more pertinently, when it does start, are we going to get revenue from the fans and our season ticket holders?”
Coventry City (1st)
Coventry are five points clear at the top of League One with a game in hand on their rivals, meaning they would stay top if final places are decided on points per game.
They have not publicly said which way they will vote.
Speaking to BBC Radio 5 Live on 6 May, chief executive Dave Boddy said: “We’ve always supported the premise of finishing the season for sporting integrity, but as every day goes by, it’s fair to say it’s looking unlikely.”
He added that a points-per-game method, similar to the ones adopted in countries such as France and Scotland, would be the “fairest route” to decide final positions if no more fixtures are possible.
Doncaster Rovers (9th)
Doncaster, who are five points off the play-offs, have not publicly confirmed which way they are likely to vote.
Manager Darren Moore told the Doncaster Free Press on 5 May that if the season is curtailed, he would prefer the campaign to be voided.
“If you’re going down the points-per-game route, it’s a real can of worms,” he said. “As a club or player, would I feel like I deserved to be promoted? Would I be sitting in a false position because someone has decided that’s how it should be sorted?”
Fleetwood Town (5th)
Fleetwood, who are two points below second-placed Rotherham, were one of six clubs that said on 14 May that they wanted the regular season to be completed on the field.
Posting on Twitter, chairman Andy Pilley said: “Sporting integrity is of paramount importance, we cannot accept points per game or any other conclusion without giving it our best shot in a safe environment.”
Head coach Joey Barton replied, saying he “couldn’t agree more” with Pilley.
Under the EFL’s recommended framework for a curtailed season, Fleetwood would drop to sixth but retain their play-off place.
Gillingham are eight points off the play-offs.
On 21 May, manager Steve Evans said he hoped League One clubs would vote to continue the season after the EFL had demonstrated “clarity” with their recommended framework.
However, a week later, chairman Paul Scally told BBC Radio Kent: “Every chairman, manager, player and fan in the EFL wants to finish the season. That’s not the issue – the issue is the cost of concluding or even going back training.
“It’s going to cost between £250,000-£350,000 for every League One and League Two club to get through a training regime with all of the protocols, and that’s not guaranteeing us playing the games, so the risk is huge.
“We would like to finish the season naturally, we felt we had an outside chance of the play-offs, and who knows after that? We were hanging onto that hope, but that hope is pretty much gone now.”
Ipswich Town (10th)
Ipswich are seven points below the play-off positions and have played at least one game more than many of the teams around them.
On 15 May, the club said owner Marcus Evans had written to EFL chairman Rick Parry backing a season restart.
“The focus should be on how we finish the season and not how we end the season on an incomplete basis,” Evans said.
Lincoln City (15th)
Chairman Clive Nates posted on Twitter on 7 May that mid-table Lincoln’s “initial preference was to complete the season” but added that there “just appears to be too many obstacles to complete the season by 31 July”.
In an interview with BBC Radio 5 Live on 3 June, chief executive Liam Scully said: “Lincoln City’s position from the very beginning is that we should take all efforts possible to complete on the field, and it is looking more and more unlikely that we’re able to do that.”
Milton Keynes Dons (18th)
MK Dons are five points above the relegation zone, having played a game more than third-from-bottom Tranmere.
Chairman Pete Winkelman and executive director Andrew Cullen have both said publicly that the club is likely to side with the majority.
Oxford United (3rd)
Oxford would remain in a play-off spot based on points per game, but retain hopes of automatic promotion as they are only two points below second-placed Rotherham.
Managing director Niall McWilliams said on 22 May: “We have said all along that we think the fairest way to decide the league is by playing matches, always with the proviso that it is done with the health and safety of our players and staff as the priority.
“The EFL has asked clubs to give their views and ours will categorically be ‘let’s play’.”
Peterborough United (6th)
Peterborough would be one of the biggest losers if the season is curtailed, as implementing a points-per-game method would see them drop out of the play-off spots.
Posh chairman Darragh MacAnthony has been a vocal advocate of resuming the season but, speaking on his “Hard Truth” podcast on Friday, he predicted clubs will vote to end the campaign at its current point.
“You know which way I’m going to be voting – I’ll always vote for football,” he said.
Portsmouth are keen to complete the season on the field. They retain a chance of automatic promotion, but will keep their play-off place if the season is curtailed.
On 20 May, chief executive Mark Catlin told BBC Radio 5 Live: “We think that we’ve got a moral obligation to our supporters, stakeholders, sponsors, a whole array of people.
“We should be making every attempt possible to try to finish the season on the pitch.”
Rochdale are four points above the relegation zone.
Chief executive David Bottomley said on 16 May: “At this moment our opinion is to end the current season now, as with every day that slips by the likelihood of allowing players a three-week mini pre-season and then the resumption and finish of the season by 31 July diminishes.”
Pinpointing the costs and moral concerns involved with testing players regularly, Bottomley added: “We, as a club, would prefer now for sensible planning to allow us to work towards a 2020-21 season start and everything that goes in line with that.”
Rotherham United (2nd)
The Millers occupy the second promotion place and would be automatically promoted under the EFL’s framework if the season is ended.
Speaking to BBC Breakfast on 15 May, chairman Tony Stewart said: “I’m a bit biased because we’re in the second position, but I think we’d like to finish the season now and decide it on points per game.”
Stewart added that he thought the financial implications of playing behind closed doors for the remainder of 2020 could see “a lot of clubs having to go into administration”, and said last week that he believes as many as 15 teams could vote to end the campaign.
Shrewsbury Town (16th)
Chief executive Brian Caldwell said on 28 May: “First and foremost, we have a duty of care as an employer to look after the health of our employees and we do not feel it is right to put them at risk by returning to training and playing at this critical time.
“We also believe it would be financial suicide to continue.”
Southend United (22nd)
Southend are 16 points from safety with nine games left to play, and chairman Ron Martin said on 11 May that he believes the campaign should be voided.
“If we are unable to finish the season, is allocating an average points per game fair? Of course not. This is a football competition, potentially with many twists and turns, not a pub quiz. Peoples’ livelihoods are at stake.
“People will cite voiding the season is based on self-interest; they are not wrong. The interests of Southend United must come first.
“No chairman of any other club, if they are being honest, would argue differently. There is ‘self-interest’ in every club in each league and it is for this reason that the ‘integrity’ of the competition is said to be paramount. If the competition cannot be finished, then it should be voided.”
Sunderland are only three points behind Rotherham but are outside the play-off places and would slip to eighth based on points per game.
On 20 May, chief executive Jim Rodwell said: “Several League One clubs have taken the stance that no further games should be played, and that a currently undetermined formula should be applied to finalise the league table.
“Sunderland strongly disagree with this view and remain committed to completing the season the right way.
“We believe that any league placings should be determined by what happens on the pitch, not in a meeting room and most certainly not in a courtroom.”
Tranmere Rovers (21st)
Tranmere, who are three points from safety with a game in hand, would be relegated under the EFL’s points-per-game method.
The club submitted their own curtailment proposal to the EFL for consideration, applying the statistical average actual margin for error over the past three years to the points-per-game model.
Teams would only be promoted or relegated if they were still in the relevant places once the margin for error is applied, with a play-off “tournament” to decide the final promotion place. Under that system, Tranmere would not be relegated.
Chairman Mark Palios later clarified that the proposal would not necessarily have to be implemented regimentally throughout the EFL, but its adoption could potentially be voted on by individual divisions.
He said on 4 June: “In the same way as I do not think it is right for League One clubs to vote for something to happen in League Two which is against the wishes of League Two, then I do not think it is right for League Two clubs to vote for something to happen in League One which does not impact them.
“Our proposal gives each division a small degree of flexibility to make sure that the outcome is ‘fair’ in its particular circumstances. It is not unusual for different divisions to vote for slightly different variants on regulations, as long as it does not impact the others.”
Wycombe Wanderers (8th)
Wycombe are outside the play-off places, but are three points behind second-placed Rotherham with a game in hand, and would be third in the table based on points per game.
On 1 June, chairman Rob Couhig outlined the substantial financial losses being sustained by the club.
Speaking to Sky Sports on 22 May, manager Gareth Ainsworth said: “We have 10 games to go, we have seven in the bottom half of the table, we have been in the top two more than any other club this season – 20 weeks in total.
“So from a competitive point of view, give me the 10 games we have remaining because I believe we will finish at least in the play-offs, if not an automatic [place]. But it has to be safe, everyone has to be safe before we come back.
“And we cannot be putting clubs out of business. It is just not the right thing to do. So obviously I’m happy with the points per game because we do end up in the play-offs, but believe me, there is no way I wanted to stop the season.”