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Biases and False Equivalencies: Finishing vs. Canceling the Season

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In some corners of the Internet, “null and void” is still a viable option. Funny how that opinion always benefits their preferred team.

BRITAIN-HEALTH-VIRUS-FBL-ENG-PR-LIVERPOOL Photo by PAUL ELLIS/AFP via Getty Images

Safety first! End the season! The only fair solution is null and void!

We’ve heard some variation on the above for over a month now. The statements always come from people who present themselves as having only the best intentions in mind. As if “safety” can be discussed in anything other than “relative safety” these days. As if voiding the season (which is certainly not the same thing as having to abandon it) wouldn’t create more problems than it would solve.

Unsurprisingly, these arguments, couched in high-minded morality, always come from those who support teams that would benefit most from voiding the whole thing.

Perhaps Liverpool fans would be taking the “null and void” position if they swapped points and league position with Tottenham, though I doubt it. Twenty-five points clear after more than 75% of the season finished? Anything less than Liverpool winning the league would be nonsense.

But so what? This is a Liverpool blog. We are Liverpool fans. Of course we think it would be massively, criminally unfair not to end the season with the Reds lifting—in some way and some place, whether in an empty stadium or board room—the thing that has eluded our grasp for three decades. We want to finish, or at the very least resolve based on sporting merit (UEFA’s phrase for how things should be decided if play can’t go on), the season in a way that ends with some Liverpool employee having to change the “18” to “19” on the club’s Walk of Champions.

We are biased. Of course we are. And we’re doing no favors to ourselves or to others if we try to pretend otherwise. However, just because we’re biased doesn’t mean we’re wrong. Nor does it mean that our bias is equal to those calling for a voided season.

There is a key difference in favor of Liverpool’s position that clubs such as West Ham and Tottenham (the two loudest “null and void” voices out three) don’t have. We have earned our place in the table. We have earned the title.

No one can reasonably argue that we wouldn’t have won it, probably over a month ago, under normal circumstances. Winning 27 out of 29 matches—after earning 97 points and becoming Champions of Europe the season before—did not happen by accident.

Whereas Liverpool have earned their league position, West Ham and Tottenham have not earned better than theirs. Spurs have been a thoroughly midtable side all season. Sitting in 8th on 41 points—exactly half of Liverpool’s point total for those keeping score—they’re sat seven points behind Chelsea for fourth, and four points behind Manchester United for fifth. Spurs might want and need to contrive themselves some kind of a moral imperative to be gifted a spot in the Champions League for financial reasons, but they’re nowhere close to deserving one.

Then there’s West Ham, sitting 16th, level on points with 18th placed Bournemouth, having been largely unconvincing in their attempt to avoid the drop. And only two points ahead of 19th-placed Aston Villa, who have a game in hand. They might “want” or feel that they “need” another season in the Premier League, but they haven’t especially earned it. With nine or 10 games remaining, there are any number of scenarios that could see them lose their place in England’s top flight. And in an abandoned season that isn’t declared null and void, it’s not impossible Villa would move ahead of them for their game in hand—when Chile abandoned their season last year, teams were awarded all three points in such situations.

Simply put, the bias of wanting what you’ve fairly earned through your performances is in no way morally equivalent to the bias of wanting what you have clearly, unequivocally not.

Moving past the obvious biases, though, there is the issue of safety, and the issue of football “not being a matter of life or death.” Safety, of course, is paramount. No one is Bill Shankly these days, arguing that football is more important than life or death.

There shouldn’t be a rush to return, especially while we have no idea what next season will look like—or whether there can be a full next season regardless how this one is concluded. But on the other hand, if playing matches behind closed doors in relative safety would help millions, literally millions, around the globe deal with the mental strain of social distancing and isolation, it isn’t a crazy or irrational pursuit.

Football should not be a matter of life or death (a lesson Liverpool fans know too well), but after this crisis, we can not simply declare that it doesn’t matter. If it didn’t matter, we’d simply call the season as is, shrug our shoulders in indifference, and resume playing again in a couple of years.

It clearly matters. Fans around the world are begging for it to return—or begging for a conclusion to it that would benefit them. It matters so much that denying Liverpool a title is of paramount importance to some rivals, even as they try to paper over their biases.

Whether it’s right or wrong, not having football has made clear just how invested a great many people are in football. Right or wrong, it clearly matters.