How to Save EFL Season 20/21

It’s been a while since we posted something, actually Bazza’s View from the South blog here. We’re going to try and post stuff, and starting today with a blog from an old J&S friend – Nat Peters.


Right now there are bigger things we have to worry about in the world but the question does linger; how are we going to complete this season and then next season in English football in an orderly fashion?

First things first this season has to be completed. You can’t start something and not finish it. For a whole variety of reasons this season has to be finished before the next one is started no matter how long it takes.

In terms of the EFL, I’ve thought out a few ideas if the season has to be dramatically rejigged from its usual format next season. As this season comes to a conclusion on a much prolonged timescale, there is less space for next season’s fixtures to be crammed in. Here is a plan derived for thinking from outside the box to save next season following on from this one.

The Cups

There have been calls for next season’s EFL Trophy and League Cup to be scrapped. I think the EFL Trophy is beyond saving next season, and to be honest once it goes I don’t think many people will be all that bothered if it comes back at all. However the League Cup could be of constructive use next season if we take the lead from north of the border as to how the Scottish League Cup is played out.

When this season is over, players are going to need a break; you may argue that they are having a physical break now but I would hardly call this a time when players can really physically and mentally unwind. Managers and Executives, no matter how long it takes this season to finish, will want a proper rest period followed by a period where they can organise their sides before their bread and butter league programmes get underway.

So my plan would be to use the League Cup to kill several birds with one stone; turn the initial stages of the League Cup into a round robin process, play those games in pre-season and generate some much needed income for clubs that desperately need it.

Most pre-seasons this wouldn’t be possible because many clubs, from the Premier League down, have a tendency to go here there and everywhere on pre-season trips. However, for financial reasons clubs and owing to the way the world is right now I don’t think all that many clubs will be all that keen to travel to Timbuktu and beyond this summer.

Seven clubs in England who will be qualifying for European competitions next season. Two of those clubs will be playing in the Europa League Qualifiers, so take them away and there are eighty-five clubs left between the Premier League and the three EFL divisions. The two clubs in the Europa League Qualifiers can use those games as the basis for a pre-season programme, and the five clubs lucky enough to qualify for the Champions League and Europa League proper should have enough clout to be able to sort out games between their peers to get themselves in shape.

On to the remaining eighty-five clubs then; you regionalise them, North and South (or maybe even North, South, East and West or something similar). You seed them across five pots depending on where they have finished this season and then you draw them into seventeen groups of five. Each team plays each other once, and every team in the group plays two home and two away fixtures. The bottom seeded team in every group is guaranteed to play at home to the top seeded team in their group, to bring in the crowds (and cash) and also to level up the playing field a bit. The top team from each group qualifies for the next stage, so after the round robin stage you have seventeen teams plus the seven playing in Europe.

Those seventeen teams will be involved in one more round before the additional seven join the competition though. However, seventeen is an odd number so when drawing these seventeen clubs together in a round of sixteen one lucky club gets a bye into the next round without having to play in the round of sixteen. The other sixteen clubs play each other in a one leg tie, and the eight winners join the club that has the bye and the seven clubs in Europe to make up a proper last sixteen and the competition kicks on from there as normal.

As stated, this format will form the basis of a pre-season for clubs across England and it may be that playing these games in pre-season will benefit the players more than the usual meaningless knockabouts you get in July every year. You could easily tweak the rules on things such as the amount of substitutions allowed in a game to maximise the playing time players get (i.e. up the number of subs allowed in a match from three to five). It also allows some of the smallest fish in the pond to get some big clubs to play at their humble abodes which would generate crowds and much needed revenue.

All in all though, it keeps the EFL (and its sponsors) happy, it keeps the competition going and it doesn’t eat into much of the time that will be desperately needed to complete other competitions next season. The time saved by conducting the League Cup in this way should then allow the FA Cup the chance to be completed in full as well by bringing some of those rounds forward or being able to play more FA Cup rounds exclusively in midweek. This would hopefully enable some love to come back for the FA Cup. As Bobby Robson once said, “The FA Cup final is the greatest single match outside the World Cup final – and it’s ours!” Some more inspirational sports quotes.

The Leagues

Ah, the bread and butter. How do you reduce the amount of games played in a league season but keep the league competitive and give everyone a fair shot of success at the same time? It is a tricky question. Initially I thought that maybe the EFL could turn the three divisions into four for one or two seasons and reduce the amount of teams in each division but clubs wouldn’t want that, especially lower down the chain; clubs don’t want more steps added to the ladder they are trying to climb. There have been suggestions that teams could simply play each other once rather than twice a season, but I don’t think that works for a couple of reasons:

From a sporting point of view, there are plenty of teams that start seasons like a train and then fall apart (think Birmingham City 16/17). Likewise, there are plenty of teams that start slowly and finish the season strongly (think Birmingham City 01/02). I just don’t think twenty-three games (or nineteen in the Premier League) is really enough to determine who really is the best and the worst in each division.

If you simply halve the league season, clubs will be hosting a lot less games than they normally would across a season. Clubs will still be paying their players and staff on a full-time basis, so simply halving their main income source could financially cripple many of them (especially clubs lower down the chain).

Potentially, you could have everyone play each other once and then simply split the league in half and have the top half play each other and the bottom half play each other to determine who goes up and goes down as happens in Scotland where the SPL is split once teams have played each other three times. My issue with simply doing this goes back to the point that it is hard to decipher just how good or bad a team is after twenty three games, and to simply split the league at the halfway stage seems arbitrary – why should a team in twelfth place after twenty three games have a chance to go up whilst the team in thirteenth who may be a point or even a goal behind them has to scrap it out at the bottom with no chance of going up but every chance of going down? In the SPL it works because at least the teams have all played against each other three times when the league is split, but is it fair to gage where a side really is in the pecking order if they’ve only played every other side once?

My idea for formatting the EFL season does evolve from the concept of splitting the league after twenty three games however; it may appear long and convoluted, but I genuinely think it would be a way of maintaining a good level of competition throughout the season. In turn this plan would keep punters engaged for the whole season and from there keep the crowds coming through clubs’ turnstiles from the start of the campaign to the end of it.

To start with, all teams DO play each other once, and clubs have their fixtures split as evenly as possible – i.e. they play eleven at home and twelve away or vice versa. Once these games have been played, the leagues are split top and bottom half and those halves are split into two again so the leagues are split into four groups of six with each team starting this next stage afresh on zero points.

In these mini groups, each team plays each other once with the top team from each group going up to the next level and the bottom team in each group goes down to the level below, where again the teams would be split into groups of six depending on where they are at. The exceptions to this being at the top end of the Championship Top Half groups (where the teams can’t go up a level at this stage because the next step up is the Premier League and their competition is run separately) and the bottom end of the League Two (where the National League is run separately). To demonstrate how this would work in full, I’m going to use Burton Albion in League One as an example.

So say Burton are in the top half of League One after twenty three games next season, they would be in one of the two groups made up of them and the other eleven teams who are in the top half at the half way point. Now at this point they can do one of three things:

Finish top of their respective group of six (and move on up to a group at the next level which would be made up of Championship sides at the “bottom half” level).

Finish somewhere that isn’t first or last place in their respective group and stay at the “top half level” of League One which would be made up of ten League One clubs (minus the two League One clubs that have gone up a level) and the two Championship clubs that finished at the bottom of their respective groups at the bottom half level of that league who now have dropped down a level.

Finish bottom of their respective group of six and end up dropping a level and into one of the “bottom half” groups of six in League One made up of ten League One Clubs (minus the two that have dropped down to a group at the League Two level) and the two League Two sides that finished top of their respective groups.

So now we enter the final stage.

Those groups are mixed up again so that as much as possible clubs who have played each other twice don’t play each other for a third time and the fixtures are done in a way so that as much as possible if a side has played more home or more away games throughout the season they play three games at home or three games away for this final stage. Everyone starts afresh from zero points for a final round of five games and as such:

The top team in each respective group gains automatic promotion for season 21/22

The second placed teams in each respective group have a play-off final to decide who the third team is gaining promotion for season 21/22

The bottom placed teams in each respective group are automatically relegated for season 21/22

The teams finishing second bottom in each respective group face each other in a relegation play-off final to decide who gets relegated for season 21/22

Obviously there are a couple of potential anomalies. There would be no need for a play off at the bottom of League Two because only two teams go down to the National League and there is the issue that typically four teams go up from League Two to League One with four teams traveling the other way from League One; I’d be all in favour of that number being reduced from four to three for a season, I’m not entirely sure why League Two gets one more promotion slot as it is.

Overall, is what I’m proposing farfetched? Definitely, but until six weeks ago the idea that a virus could stop the whole of football and the rest of the world in its tracks would have been seen as way beyond being farfetched. Are there flaws and drawbacks to these ideas? Yes, but it would be a way of creating intrigue and excitement for near enough every club throughout a season whilst at the same time cutting down massively the amount of games clubs in the EFL would play next season in the league (from forty-six to thirty-three or thirty-four if they were in a play-off).

It may be that you have more (or less) clubs moving between divisions than in a normal season, but for me this plan would offer teams a real test of where they are at throughout the season and give all teams the feeling that no matter how well or badly they are doing throughout the season they will have everything to play for ’til the very last kick of next season.

The Transfer Window and FFP/Profit and Sustainability – Scrap them

I’ve never been a fan of the transfer window. For me the idea that clubs are restricted to three months a year when they can sell or buy their industry’s most valuable commodities is ridiculous. Clubs needing to bring cash into the business are forced to sell players at lower prices than they’d like because they know they only have a small amount of time to sell players and more to the point clubs trying to buy their players know this as well. Likewise, clubs desperate to replenish their squads (particularly during the January window) are basically forced to pay over the odds for players because selling clubs know they only have a limited time to improve their squad so can simply knock the transfer fee up.

This will be even more prevalent where the cash flow issues affecting businesses across the world are going to hit many football clubs; the last thing you want to do right now is play fast and loose with how they can control their income and expenditure. Simply scrap it and for next season (and maybe beyond that) go back to the old system of having a single transfer deadline date near to the end of the season.

FFP/Profit and Sustainability are similar for me, I don’t see the need for the restrictions these regulations place on clubs and I never have. It is nanny state nonsense to tell a business how it can and can’t spend its money. The finances for clubs right now are going to be all over the place and they will be for a good while once this pandemic is over. It would be ridiculous to start penalising clubs if they fail FFP or break their “Profit and Sustainability” restrictions. Just scrap the lot of it for next season and let clubs sort themselves out.

As I said, what I am putting forward as ideas are definitely farfetched, unconventional and in normal circumstances would be considered nonsensical. Ideally we would be able to play our leagues and cups as we always do next season, but I just don’t think that is going to be feasible. The FA, Premier League and EFL are going to have to be imaginative to move the game forward from this pandemic, and I just hope they are capable of being imaginative.

Nat Peters

Discuss this post, and other items, in the Joys and Sorrows Forum.


1 Comment on How to Save EFL Season 20/21

  1. Good well thought out report Nat. Your last paragraph says it all with regard to EFL. My own dealings with this lot has continually resulted in an arrogance which I cannot see changing. Almajir always has it spot on. Keep plugging away.

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