Coronavirus: Postponement Problems

Birmingham City confirmed late on Boxing Day that their home fixture against Peterborough United on Wednesday December 29 has been postponed due to the short turn around for players to return from isolation or recover from injury. This means that Blues will have two fixtures now to rearrange into what is already a fairly tight calendar.


The full BCFC statement confirms that:

“Given the amount of positive cases within the squad, coupled with injuries sustained to First Team players, the Club does not have a sufficient number of players available.”

I don’t think the announcement should come as any surprise to fans bearing in mind Blues have already postponed one fixture to be played on Boxing Day. It was always going to be a struggle to ensure that things are improved within three days.

However, I did want to write some thoughts down about what is happening and the potential implications it could have for the club later on this season.

The EFL confirmed on December 16 that:

“Clubs will be expected to play where it has 14 players including a goalkeeper available from the Club’s registered squad list, Under 21 players not on the squad list but have played one League match, or any other contracted player not on the squad list but otherwise would have been eligible to play. The EFL will assist Clubs in their deliberations.”

Using this information, I wanted to work out just how bad things have to be at Blues for them to postpone their fixtures.

Because I’m a stats nerd I’ve tried to keep a spreadsheet together regarding the Blues squad, to help me track contracts etc. You can look at that spreadsheet by clicking this link.

I’ve tried to colour code my spreadsheet to help me find things quickly. Players in yellow are out on loan, while players that are in light blue have not made their professional debut, which means that they can be taken out of consideration.

That leaves us with 31 players who are at the club and have made at least one professional appearance.

Of those 31, we know that Tahith Chong, Adan George and Ivan Sanchez are long-term injured and thus won’t be counted, and that while Alfie Chang and Tate Campbell have made their debut they have not played in the league yet. This reduces the pool of players for Blues to choose from to 26.

This means that either Blues have more than 12 players affected by Covid / injury who cannot play, or that all three of Neil Etheridge, Matija Sarkic and Connal Trueman have been ruled out (as one of the fit players has to be a keeper).

As the EFL are “assisting clubs in their deliberations” one would hope that clubs are being checked to ensure all reports of injuries and Covid infections are truthful.

I have to admit, the idea Blues have 12 or more players out is kind of disturbing.

We’ve seen the news that 25% of EFL players “currently do not intend to get the vaccine”.

We do not know how this figure breaks down at individual clubs, but I would personally hope that with both Etheridge and Troy Deeney having been severely ill with Covid that players would take the threat Covid poses seriously.

It’s also interesting seeing the reactions from other clubs to postponements.

AFC Wimbledon made a statement on Boxing Day calling on the EFL to “stamp down on clubs cancelling games due to Covid-19”.

They’ve made it clear that despite not having much in the way of budgetary resources, they have gone above and beyond protocols to ensure that they can fulfil fixtures… and that if they can do that, then why can’t other clubs with more money.

I fully understand their position, as it only takes one team to have issues to force a match to be postponed; which can then mean a club who have been ready to play every game could end up being forced to play catch-up at the end of the season in the manner of Rotherham United last year through no fault of their own.

From the outside, the simple answer would be to force teams to play underage players to fill the gaps in their squad but there are issues with that which might not appear visible at first glance.

For example, at Blues the u23s do not have a game until January so some players (Oriol Soldevila as an example) have returned home for Christmas, meaning that there are issues with immediately bringing them into the squad.

Then there are clubs where the u23s are training in a separate bubble to the first team to try to reduce contacts and possible infections for the first team group. That complicates bringing those u23 squad players into the main group.

And then finally, there is the Derby issue.

Derby were forced last season to field a team of u23 players in the FA Cup due to a Covid breakout in their first team group. That rebounded on them at the start of this season as the EFL told them that those players would count as full professionals, meaning that Derby would not be able to postpone games due to a lack of their players following their transfer embargo and financial problems.

There is a possibility teams will be reluctant to give u23 players their first team bow if it means that they will then be forced to use them in the future when they might not want to.

With winter now upon us and the possibility of the weather affecting if fixtures can be played in addition to Covid issues, it could make for a very interesting spring and more issues for the EFL. Throw in an earlier start to the season next year due to World Cup 2022 taking place in Qatar in November, and the possibility of extending the season seems unlikely.

I think the EFL have to make some big decisions, and quickly.

While I think the idea of five substitutes seems a sensible one, I think it’s more important that the EFL revise their stance on how players are counted so that clubs do not feel punished if they have to field players from their u23 or u18 squads. If that means the suspension of those leagues so that youth players can train with first team groups then so be it.

Either way with Covid cases at record levels it seems prudent that the EFL does something.