Feature: Potential Changes to Non-League Football Next Season
The COVID-19 pandemic has swept the globe, reaping havoc in almost every area and consequently casusing widespread financial trouble for businesses all over the world. Football clubs, especially lower and non-league, have been severely impacted due to the lack of expenditure within hospitality through new government 'lockdown laws', however despite it's return being eagerly anticipated, both by the clubs and fans next season, non-league football could look very different.
Probably the most welcomed change for many; spitting has become normalised within the game and it's seen frequently across all levels, from the Premier League to Sunday League. However, due to the risks surrounding coronavirus transmission, spitting will become cracked-down upon next season by officials, likely becoming a yellow card offence, while bans could also be implemented if the rules are not adhered to by players.
2. Player Contact
Player contact will be reduced as much as possible, with 'zonal marking' tactics now being pushed instead of 'man-marking' from corners by the Premier League in order to reduce the risk of transmission, while players have also been given the option of wearing gloves to decrease contact with others and also the ball from throw-in situations. Since the return of the Bundesliga however, this has been seen infrequently and seems unrealistic if football is to be continually played at the high standard we've become accustomed to.
3. Stadium Age Restrictions
With older people significantly more at risk to COVID-19, age restrictions will likely be put in place to protect the most vulnerable. Roy Hodgeson, the 72 year old Crystal Palace manager, will potentially miss the rest of this seasons Premier League action, however it should be noted that many broadcasters, such as Sky Sports, will be making many matches free-to-air, while non-league clubs regularly have online commentary or updates, allowing everyone to keep up with the action.
4. Gradual Stadium Return
With the risk of transmission being dramatically increased when large crowds are in close proximity, its understandable filling football stadiums with spectators would be irresponsible. However, it's also unrealistic to assume this will immediately return back to normal, instead it's becoming increasingly probable clubs will have to put protective equipment in place, such as plastic barriers between seats, to decrease the risk of infection. A phased return has also been promoted, with only half of any stadiums capacity allowed to be filled to allow social distancing between people (through leaving empty seats).
Thinking back to the days of Roy Keane diving into challenges with his studs up seem incomprehensible now, with many players spending more time working on their fancy celebrations than tackling, however that could soon change. To avoid unnecessary contact, players could be asked to totally avoid celebrating, with an immediate return to their half for kick off being the best way to limit the spread of coronavirus. This has once more been strengthened after the return of the Bundesliga, with players constantly high-fiving despite being asked to only greeted each other by touching elbow to elbow.