There are probably a few clubs that secretly – and some not quite so secretly – would be quite glad for this season to be nixed due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Those struggling and those just playing out the rest of the campaign in mid-table nothingness, would welcome a nulling and voiding of things, sorry everyone, can’t be helped, let’s try again in August.
Wycombe Wanderers are not one of those teams. Despite some ropey form before the corona-enforced shutdown, Gareth Ainsworth’s side are still very much in the promotion mix: they’re just a point outside the League One playoff places and things are so tight that they’re only three off the automatics, with at least one game in hand on the teams above them.
So what sort of impact does something like this have on their players. Winger David Wheeler joined the Totally Football League Show this week, and firstly he spoke about how, even though they will be desperate to get their promotion push back on, something like this helps reassess where football does actually sit in the wider scheme of things.
“It definitely puts things into perspective for sure,” said Wheeler. “Most people and most of the players will say that football’s so insignificant compared to everything else, as much as we all love it and life’s pretty boring now without it. It’s just about making sure we do the right thing, so our elderly relatives don’t get the virus.
“There’s definitely been quite a shift in how it’s been treated over the last few days. A week ago our physio sent a couple of lads who had come in with a cold – everyone was jumping up and down laughing, taking the mick, and we all thought it was really harsh. Obviously he’s now been shown to be completely on the money.”
One solution to how this season might be completed is playing games behind closed doors when it’s safe to do so: how would Wheeler feel about that?
“It’s a difficult one. Obviously by that point we’ll be chomping at the bit to get outside, get some exercise and get some competition. But at the same time – the European games that have been behind closed doors, you’ve got top class teams but it almost seems boring when you’ve got no fans. Football just isn’t the same without the fans in the stadium.
“There are so many things it throws up: you lose home advantage, which is a big factor for some teams. You’ve got some teams who rely on gate receipts more than others, so I think you’d probably say ‘don’t go back until the fans go back’. But then it becomes very, very complicated going on to the next season.”
While all Football League games were called off from last weekend, National League fixtures went ahead.
“From a human perspective, I thought it was mental,” says Wheeler. “The Halifax game was on TV and I was sort of thinking “have Halifax found a cure and they’re holding everyone else to ransom or something?” It seemed really crazy that everything was going ahead, but when you sat back and thought about it, those non-league clubs are probably on the front line in terms of relying so much on the gate, probably more so than anyone in the higher divisions.
“There’s the obvious point that the crowds are slightly smaller, but even so – you’re still getting way over 500 at some of these grounds. I thought it was a bit reckless, and a bit strange considering the decision the Football League has made.”
So what is Wheeler doing now, with no games and limited training?
“Most clubs at our level will give players guidance, and programmes about what you need to do individually. We have been in the odd time, but obviously it’s not anywhere near the same, and we’re restricted in some of the things we can do.
“As far as we know, the game is on [against Rotherham on April 4], but I highly doubt that will happen now, probably for a while. And we definitely have to have the conversation about having a mini pre-season before we go back, because it doesn’t take that long to de-train and get unfit.”
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