Devonshire ponders whether football circuit break might help level the playing field

Maidenhead United boss Alan Devonshire has said that playing matches comes very much secondary to the country’s fight against COVID-19, and he wonders whether a short, circuit-break for all levels of the game might be the fairest way to bring clubs back onto a level playing field.

It’s been reported that Premier League clubs are considering a cooling off period in the coming weeks, after the league returned the highest number of positive COVID-19 tests in a single week.

The National League has also been beset by positive COVID-19 tests at clubs and postponements, with United’s games against Barnet and Wealdstone this week having to be rearranged due to coronavirus events in the opposition camps.

So far Maidenhead haven’t had a positive case, unlike neighbours Slough Town who reported one this week, but their fixtures have been impacted, with the club not due to play again in the league until Yeovil Town’s visit on Saturday, January 16.

It also means that their thumping 4-0 win over Wealdstone on Boxing Day is likely to be their only league fixture in a six week period.

“Life is more important than football and if a break is the best way around this, and matches have to stop for a month then we’ll have to stop for a month,” said Devonshire.

“Life is the thing that comes first. It’s not about the football.

“To be fair, playing games is very much secondary to what’s going on at the moment. I’m more worried about that.

“There’s so much of this stuff about at the moment.

“There are more cases and there’s a new variant now as well. If football has got to stop then stop it, for everyone’s sake, so that everyone is on a level playing field.

“But at the moment you’ve got some clubs not playing games through no fault of their own. We’ve had no COVID stuff in our bubble and we’ve been able to play all of the games that we were down to play. It’s other teams who have had cases, again through no fault of their own, but it means we don’t have another game for three weeks and will have played one league game in six weeks. How is that fair?”

Devonshire says the long break is hardly ideal at what is usually one of the busiest times in the season, and fears it could lead to them cramming in catch-up matches later in the season. Yeovil are the only club so far to have agreed to bring their match forward, but Devonshire is hopeful one or two more clubs will agree to move their fixtures to face the Magpies in the coming weeks.

“It’s a bit unfair to us,” he said. “We’ve tried to get some fixtures in and clubs have said no. I think the league should stipulate that if matches are called off in this manner, and there is a free date in the calendar, a game is fixed up.

“I just feel there are rules for some and rules for others.

“I’m just disappointed we can’t get games in, and what will happen later in the season is we’ll probably have to play Saturday, Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday. It just seems wrong for us not to play for a few weeks. If teams have a free week or weekend they should be made to play. But, listen, it is what it is. I think it’s the little club syndrome again.

“I don’t know what the protocol is on COVID. When we played Notts County they had four players go down with it before the game but they still wanted to play. We were made to play the game when we didn’t really want to travel there. I’d just like to know what the protocol is for games being called off. Is it because they can’t get a team out? Or maybe they have a few players out and one coach, I just don’t know. But, listen, as I’ve said before, football is secondary to all of this.”

Wealdstone reported their positive COVID-19 case just days after playing the Magpies at York Road but, so far at least, no one in the Magpies squad or coaching team has displayed any symptoms.

“Touch wood we haven’t had anyone come forward,” said Devonshire.

“If they did they would stay away and have a test before they came back. We’ve been tested regularly to make sure.

“We do the best we can. We train away from each other as much as possible.

“Outside it’s less of a worry, but hopefully the other clubs are doing the same. We can only control our own bubble.

“I don’t want to get this. I’m 64 and I don’t want to get it.

“At the moment we’re due to play again on January 16. All we can do is do what we’re told and get on with it.

“We’ll keep ourselves ticking over and we’ll also have a few boys come back from injury as well. I was looking at possibly getting a friendly match in if we can because some of the boys haven’t played for a while.

“I’ve made calls to a few clubs this morning but if the Premier League decides to close down I would imagine all the leagues would do it.”

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