Peter Kitchen: Football has to take a collective responsibility

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PETER KITCHEN insisted it is time that those holding high authority in football do what is best for the country amidst the continued COVID-19 crisis.

With a number of sporting events cancelled or suspended, looking unlikely to imminently return, the former Leyton Orient frontman believed football needs to curb, what is largely viewed as a selfish opinion, to carry on with the 2019/20 season and use its global appeal to set a good example to society before collectively rebuilding once the pandemic has passed.

“I know this will split opinions but the country is in a serious situation with no sign of the virus slowing down any time soon. I think it’s time football, in general, took a bit of responsibility and realised it isn’t more important than human life,” Kitchen told Yellow Sport.

“There is a six-week period available from the middle of May to the end of June to complete the domestic competitions and although there have been further discussions about extending that, we have no idea when the pandemic is likely to peak. For me, the season is over – its time the footballing authorities accepted that and collectively look for a way forward.”

Kitchen realised that clubs faced different scenarios, but questioned whether it’s important in the grand scheme of things. 

“Of course, from a Leyton Orient perspective, an early finish to the season isn’t going to make too much difference. Finance from the gate, sponsorship and corporate will all be hit, but in terms of a league position, there is little concern. But for the other Yellow Sports clubs, I understand it could be argued they still have European places, promotion and relegation issues hanging over them. A null and void 2019/20 season would probably be welcomed at the London Stadium, Roots Hall and Victoria Road as it would extinguish fears of the drop. However, for those looking to progress, such as Colchester, the frustration will be enormous – But in the great scheme of things and this current climate, does it matter when the focus of everyone on the planet is how to beat an invisible enemy and save lives?

“Clubs will argue the financial implications, which for the likes of Orient, Southend, Colchester and Dagenham & Redbridge is huge. Furloughing players and staff will help a little – Perhaps these measures should only be available to lower league clubs and not those in the Premier League, who reap millions and should be able to come out the other side relatively unscathed in comparison?”

Kitchen, who scored 65 times during two spells at Brisbane Road, continued: “Currently, the authorities have two realistic choices. Restart the league in the mid-May, playing out the games behind closed doors or scrap the season sooner rather than later. Decisions must be made based on expert advice. Playing behind closed doors suggests the situation is far from over. Even a football ground just containing players, staff and the media offers an opportunity for illness to spread. It was recently reported that West Ham had eight players suffering symptoms. They, or any club in a similar situation, would rightly argue it is unfair to carry on. How long does it take a sportsman to regain full fitness after shaking the disease? Is it fair to put them and others at further risk? 

“Scrapping the season will undoubtedly bring about lawsuits. In the great scheme of things, I think the respective titles in England and Scotland were largely done and dusted. You can also argue that the likes of Leeds United and Coventry City would have taken some stopping in their bids for promotion – It is a real conundrum for the authorities because while it is mathematically possible, there will be clubs who believe they could be caught. 

“In an ideal world, this whole nightmare will end sooner rather than later, and we can all get on with our everyday lives again, perhaps a little more mindful of how precious life is. But that seems to be a long way off at the moment. Promote the current top teams in each division and make the Premier League bigger? Make up the numbers in the ELF by handing National League leaders, Barrow, a return after almost fifty years? 

“The truth is, I don’t know the answers? Legendary Liverpool manager, Bill Shankley, once famously quoted;

“Some people believe football is a matter of life and death. I am very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that.”

On another occasion, the Reds boss also said; 

“Sickness would not have kept me away from this one. If I’d been dead, I would have had them bring the casket to the ground, prop it up in the stands, and cut a hole in the lid.”

“I think that on this occasion, Shanks – for all the good he did for the game – has got it wrong on both accounts. For the time being, we must all stay away. Football isn’t as important than hearing daily updates of a rising death toll.

Kitchen concluded: “What I do know is that back on December 15, 1914, at Fulham Town Hall, thirty-five footballers – including ten from Clapton Orient – initially signed up to the 17th (Service) Battalion, Middlesex Regiment, otherwise known as The Footballers Battalion. They volunteered for the good of the country and in the hope of a better future. 

“In comparison, the sacrifice required today is insignificant compared to those who took the lead more than a century ago. Nevertheless, a collective reality check from those now at the helm could at least offer the game of football a crumb of public respect at a time where it seems to be consumed by its own self-importance.”

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Brian Jeeves

Email: [email protected]

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