By Robson Sharuko
Zimbabwe international midfielder, Marvelous Nakamba, is likely to be among a group of footballers to play an English top-flight league game in June, for the first time since 1947.
The English Premiership is set to make its eagerly-awaited return next month.
Nakamba’s Aston Villa are scheduled to host Sheffield United at home at Villa Park on June 17, on the same day Manchester City take on Arsenal.
They will be the first two matches since the world’s biggest box office top-flight football league was halted in March by the COVID-19 outbreak. The four clubs all have a game in hand to the rest of the Premiership which, in Villa’s case, became a fierce rallying cry against ending the season, as per the current standings, which would have seen them being relegated.
A full round of fixtures would then be played on the weekend of June 19-21.
“It’s coming back, it’s coming back, it’s coming, football’s coming back. June 17,” former England captain, Gary Lineker, who is now one of the biggest football pundits, tweeted yesterday.
Current England skipper, Harry Kane, also took to Twitter and simply said, “Football is back soon,” while former Liverpool and England ace forward, Michael Owen, could only say “June 17, it’s back.”
Another British television personality, Piers Morgan, a passionate Arsenal fan, also joined the Twitter feast.
“GOOD NEWS! Premier League restarting on June 17,” he tweeted. “BAD NEWS! First games back is Arsenal away to Man City. This all feels too early to me.
“Let’s not rush back into things.”
After those two games, all the 20 clubs in the Premiership would have played 29 matches and there will be a further 90 still to be played which will determine the league championship, which will be won by Liverpool, and the Champions League and Europa league places.
The remainder of the season will also determine the relegation puzzle These two matches are the “games in hand” for these four clubs, which will take all 20 Premier League teams up to 29 fixtures for the season.
Norwich City are bottom of the table with 21 points, Villa are second-from-bottom with 25 points while Bournemouth are just a place above Nakamba and his team on 27 points.
Should Villa win their game in hand, they will move to 28 points, a point above Bournemouth, Watford and West ham and just a point behind Brighton and Hove Albion.
The English top-flight league has never had a match in June since 1947 when authorities were asked to choose between abandoning the championship race, playing up to halfway through the summer or behind closed doors.
Back then, the British Government summoned the leaders of football, rugby union and rugby league, horse and greyhound racing, speedway and ice hockey, which were the biggest mass sporting disciplines in terms of spectator appeal, to a meeting on March 12, 1947.
The authorities were concerned the midweek sporting activities, in those disciplines, were providing a distraction to the British people at a time when the Government was determined to boost productivity in British factories. Britain, battered by the destruction caused by World War II, badly needed to come back on its feet and the factories were key towards achieving that goal.
By halting the sporting activities, the authorities believed, it would enable the majority of the people to concentrate on their work in the factories. Football was in a fix given the winter, that year, had been brutal, affecting its programmes and, even just days before the Government called its leaders to that meeting, 17 of the 44 scheduled matches had been called off because of the inclement weather conditions. May stadiums were either flooded, or were still frozen.
Despite protests from fans, the Government refused to budge and the English top-flight league matches spilled into June for the completion of the season.
And, as fate might have it, then — just like now — Sheffield United were one of the clubs who had played fewer games with the Blades having played 26 while Blackpool had played 34 matches.
It even gets interesting when one considers that Liverpool, who are set to be crowned champions with the league matches are again played in June, were the champions the last time matches were played in that month in 1947. It was the fifth league title for the Reds and, when the matches resume next month, it will be the first league title for Liverpool in the era of the English Premiership.
Back in 1947, Liverpool went top with 2-1 away win over Wolverhampton Wanderers on May 31, on a day Wolves could have also captured the title had they won that match.
Liverpool had to wait for the outcome of the match between Stoke City and Sheffield United on June 14, 1947, with a win for Stoke seeing them taking the title on goal average.
However, it was the Blades who won that match 2-1 and Liverpool were champions, ending just a point above runners-up Manchester United, who had the same number of points (56), as third-placed Wolves.
Experts had noted that the 20 clubs would lose a combined total of £1.2 billion if the season was abandoned and matches not completed as originally scheduled.
Meanwhile, Villa manager, Dean Smith, whose father succumbed to COVID-19 this week, says goalkeeper Tom Heaton has been his best summer signing since the club went on a buying spree last July and August to give themselves fighting chance to stay in the Premiership. Heaton was recruited from Burnley in a £10 million deal.
“It’s a tough one, I suppose Tom Heaton because he understands the league,” Smith told Beyond The Ball. “I just felt it would strengthen us by bringing in an experienced goalkeeper.
“He’s been there, seen it and done it. Unfortunately he got injured on New Year’s Day and it put him out for the season. He’s one who adapted straight away but there’s others.
“Douglas Luiz is playing an awful lot of games. He was playing La Liga last year so he’s found it a little bit different.”