With football returning to Europe in the form of the German Bundesliga over the past weekend – albeit with empty stadiums – the attention has shifted to other leagues across the continent and when they might return to action, either with or without without fans. This is the first post regarding the post-coronavirus pandemic in European football as leagues try to figure out what to do it their suspended seasons.
The English Football League suspended their season on March 13, which became an indefinite suspension on April 3 as the coronavirus pandemic spread across Europe. Supporters of clubs at all levels of the pyramid were hopeful for a return to the pitch this season, even if it meant doing so in an abbreviated fashion. As football was preparing for an empty stadium return to Germany, the 24 clubs of League Two, the fourth tier of English football, held a vote and decided to end the season as of that day, albeit deciding the final table based on points per game instead of overall points.
Because all of the league teams had not played 37 matches, the points per game determination was made to ensure that all clubs had a fair shot at competing at the top of the table. While using the PPG method didn’t change who qualified for promotion, it did shuffle up the order a bit. Also, the four clubs that would have qualified for the playoffs on March 13 still did, albeit in a slightly different order.
Your 2020 League One Champions
On March 13, Swindon Town had 69 points and was in second place, behind Crewe Alexandra – who had the same 69 points – based on point differential. But they had also played one fewer game than the Railwaymen, so when it shifted to a PPG method, Town topped the league at 1.96 points per game. They get to wear the crown as they head to League One next season, hopefully led by League One scoring champion Eoin Doyle, who paced the league with 26 goals in 34 matches. They return to League One after three seasons in League Two following their last relegation after a 22nd place finish during the 2016-17 season.
Crewe Alexandra settled into the second spot with 1.86 PPG, slightly ahead of Plymouth Argyle, who finished third with 1.84 PPG. Both clubs will join the Robins in League One next season. Plymouth Argyle made their return to League Two a short one, and heads back up a tier after only one season in League Two. Crewe Alexandra, on the other hand, returns after a four-year absence, which occurred after a 24th place finish in League One during the 2015-16 season.
As part of the agreement to end the season on May 15, the clubs also voted to hold the same four club playoff that would have been completed had the season concluded as originally scheduled.
Cheltenham Town gets elevated to the fourth position based on PPG (1.78), having played only 36 matches at the suspension of play. They leaped over Exeter City (1.76), who fell back a spot to fifth place. Cheltenham Town had the league’s best goal differential (+25), and has the best goal differential of the four playoff clubs. Whether that gives them a leg up on the competition – whenever it is played – remains to be seen.
Rounding out the playoff competitors are Colchester United and Northampton Town, who both tied with 1.57 PPG. They edged out Port Vale, who had one less point and probably would have liked to turn one of their league-leading 15 draws into a victory to make up the difference, at least had they known the season was going to end as it did. Instead, Port Vale will just miss out on the playoff, and a potential return to League One, until next season.
A Reprieve from Relegation
At the bottom of the table, in a league that typically relegates the bottom two finishers, at least one will be saved from that fate. Thanks to the ignominious expulsion of Bury from League One early in the season, there will be one less club coming down from League One at the conclusion of their season, whenever that may be (they also voted to end their season under similar terms on May 15, but could not come to an agreement).
Currently safe is Macclesfield Town, who had 11 points deducted this season due to some off-pitch issues and finished with 0.68 PPG. That deduction pushed them below Morecambe (0.86), but not below Stevenage (0.61), who remain on the chopping block. The club has “for consideration to be given to suspending relegation” thanks they believed they could have climbed off the bottom if allowed to complete a full season, though their league worse goal differential (-26) counters that claim.
Answers Are Coming… Right?
League Two was the first major league in England to figure out the end of their season amidst the coronavirus, but they won’t be the last. We’ll likely see some sort of decision soon from the rest of the leagues, especially considering that there are many players with expiring contracts come June 30. We’ll keep our eyes on things and let you know what happens when it happens.
Until next time…