Dave Seddon’s Preston North End pressview: Tentative plans put forward to finish season

At the moment it is hard to look beyond the next day, wondering what to do to keep occupied during lockdown.

Saturday, 11th April 2020, 6:00 am

So it was nice to be able to cast the mind forward and run the rule over tentative plans to get the EFL season going again in the summer.

A ‘leaked’ letter from EFL chairman Rick Parry – the world and his wife seemed to have caught sight of the said letter – to clubs, carried a suggestion that the 2019/20 campaign could be played to a finish in a 56-day spell.

That would include the play-offs and such a timescale would appear feasible if midweek dates are used extensively as well as weekend kick-offs.

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Will Preston play their remaining home games of the 2019/20 season behind closed doors at Deepdale?

If – and let me stress that word – this was to happen, games are likely to be played behind closed doors.

As we get used to social distancing, the idea of empty grounds isn’t a surprise.

Parry’s letter to EFL clubs also suggested no return to training before May 16.

So if May 16 is indeed the day when padlocks can come off training ground gates, that would point to a return to action in early to mid June.

That would give three or four weeks to get the players back up to full fitness and perhaps fit in a couple of warm-up games to shake off the rust.

If this was all to happen on such a timetable, it could see the season finished by late July or early August.

Conceivably, there could then be an autumn start to the 2020/21 campaign.

It would be a real lift should that happen but of course it can only be done in conjunction with advice from the Government and health authorities.

For a letter of the nature written by Parry, you imagine some sort of dialogue had taken place between Government and the football bodies.

To go it alone in trying to put this schedule together would seem pointless if there was the prospect of it being immediately vetoed.

Let’s for the moment imagine this timetable of a May 16 return to training and a June restart to the season gets the go-ahead.

I’m not saying it will and at the moment the only thing we should be willing is for people to stay safe and follow the health advice.

However, it is a plan worth looking at.

Some sort of pre-season type work is going to be needed to get the players ready to play again.

Sitting on spin bikes at home and going out for a run will have kept them physically fit but obviously not football sharp.

This won’t be the normal pre-season, no trips abroad, no Scottish or Irish training camps.

There will be logistics aplenty to work through when it comes to the games restarting.

Will hotels be back open for teams to stay at the night before matches?

Then there is the matter of a squad of players training, changing, showering and travelling in close proximity.

To start with at least, closed doors games seem the logical way forward.

Covid-19 isn’t simply going to disappear and so to suddenly have thousands of people sat in a stadium seems a no-go.

Can you stop people turning up to stand outside a ground when a match is being played?

When you currently have people prepared to flout the safety guidelines by driving long distances to go to the beach or countryside on a nice day, there could be some fans who are tempted to attend the ground.

Even if games are behind closed doors, there would have been provision for medical and ambulance cover. Come June and July, could ambulances be spared?

As for the health of players, if the advice in the summer continues to be as it now – to self-isolate if showing symptoms – what if a player becomes unwell?

Would the whole squad have to quarantine and what would that do with regards the 56-day schedule?

Perhaps in the weeks ahead we will have a bit more clarity. There is time to play with, the proposed May 16 training return still more than a month off.

Somehow, as many games as possible will have to be made available either on television or streamed online to take into account them being behind closed doors.

Before the shutdown last month, there was talk of making the IFollow service available to season ticket holders.

That would be one way around it, especially outside of the Premier League.

Whether you support PNE, Liverpool, Oldham or Cheltenham, fans will be desperate to see the games.

All supporters deserve that at the lowest cost possible.

An interesting passage in the letter from Parry to the clubs, concerned the subject of the play-offs.

It read: “The EFL Board is currently working on the basis that end-of-season play-offs will take place across all three divisions as normal with two-legged semi-finals and a final, although no decision has been taken on the likely venue as it will depend on the circumstances at play at the time.”

That seems to be a hint that Wembley might not be used for the finals.

Logistically, it might not make sense to have teams travelling to London for the final if the stadium is going to be empty.

There might be grounds which geographically are better suited.

Whatever happens, the 2019/20 season will not go down as being normal.

The 2020/21 campaign won’t be either, with the landscape altered for quite a while by this pandemic.

I think planning next season will be easier than finishing this current one.

Next season will need to be squeezed, with common sense used by governing bodies, clubs, players, broadcasters and sponsors.

A normal state of play won’t return with a click of the fingers.

Finance will drive a lot of decisions but eyes must never be taken off the health and well-being of players and fans alike. That is priority.

Enjoy Easter and please stay safe.