HAVING a partitioned season threw up some sights and situations we could never have envisioned but for the arrival of a global pandemic.
Enormous, empty stadiums, echoing the shouts and swears of the players below, created the sensation that we were looking at a five-a-side rather than one of the elite footballing leagues in the world.
Like a cricket match, playing in summer required a drinks' break midway through each half, even though the British summer saw more days requiring gloves than drinks for players often native to climes far hotter than a 'sweltering' downpour in Burnley on a Wednesday afternoon.
Then there was the introduction of five substitutes for each team per game. This offered us with the strange sight of seeing six players coming on at the same time and looked more like an ice hockey rotation than a football match.
Nobody is interested in seeing empty stadiums anymore. The atmosphere vacuum from empty grounds has shown the game would not last long this way without fans and not just for the obvious financial reason either. It shows that the fans themselves are as much part of the attraction of the game as the players they came to see.
It is something I've said before about the League of Ireland. If you build the stadiums they will come. The standard and quality of the game in Ireland is not that far off the pace of much bigger leagues but is often hampered by the inferior infrastructures and viewing positions for fans across the country.
I'm not recommending an Old Trafford in every town but something closer to Shamrock Rovers' Tallaght Stadium along with better facilities and concessions that will attract the fans which in turn creates the atmosphere that attracts even more spectators.
Anyway, in the current situation that all seems like pie in the sky, and even the Premier League will struggle to see a return of smaller, monitored numbers to the stadiums next season.
Some have argued for the retention of the drinks break or a rest period in each half for the new season, but thankfully that's been rejected. If two more breaks were allowed you'd soon be in an American football scenario of four quarters and the demand by TV stations for more advertising while the players sup their water. Speaking to older fans of American football has confirmed that the introduction of the four quarters ruined the purity and flow of the original game. It's been noticeable too in the Premier League that the dominant side in a game seems to go off the boil after stopping for the drinks break. Thankfully we will not be seeing this next season.
What we will be seeing is the retention of the five substitutes rule next season. The International Football Association Board has extended the rule into the 2020-21 season, and there is some good reasoning behind it. The decision was made with players’ safety in mind, as next season’s schedule is likely to be full of double game weeks as teams negotiate a late start to the season, European and domestic cup runs, possible postponements due to Covid-19 outbreaks, and an end of season deadline to accommodate the 2020 European Championships and other summer competitions. Not to mind a very short turnaround recovery period from this season as it is.
Some fans are sceptical of the move, saying that it will benefit the larger teams in the league who have bigger squads. However, the evidence so far suggests smaller teams are more likely to make use of extra subs.
The Premier League’s top three (Liverpool, Manchester City and Chelsea) have used a total of 64 substitutes since the restart, whereas the then bottom three (Aston Villa, Bournemouth and Norwich City) have used 71 substitutes.
The real question is do the big club subs have more of an impact than lower table teams? But that was probably the case already.
And while extra subs are well and good, the real change fans would like to see is the league addressing the inconsistencies in VAR. The handball rule needs a new and better definition and judgements on penalty decisions must be made on the facts of the foul in question not on whether it is understandable that the referee got it wrong.
Until this elephant in the room is sorted out the number of subs coming on is just a mere exercise in mathematics.