Duncan Edwards recalls the most famous Grand National that wasn't and looks ahead to what the next few month's might bring
The name Esha Ness probably doesn’t mean a lot to most people. However, in Liverpool in 1993 it was the name on everyone’s lips; the winner that wasn’t of the Grand National. The name Keith Brown is even less likely to tinkle a distant bell, but he was the starter whose inability to wave a flag led to the farce that ensued. It was an absolute shitshow, ruined the day for the tens of thousands in attendance but was surely most devastating for the connections of Esha Ness – the bookies having to refund £75m worth of bets were pretty pissed off too I would think.
Fast forward to 2020 and it’s Liverpool on everyone’s lips as COVID-19 seriously threatens to make them the Esha Ness of this football season. Let’s be fair, they’ve virtually won the league mathematically and it would be a travesty if they were to be denied lifting the trophy they’ve spent three decades chasing in vain. It would also be pretty funny because they’d - rightly – go fucking batshit. That said, perhaps them missing out on something through no fault of their own would give them a sense of how we felt when we missed out on numerous seasons of European football thanks in no small part to the actions of Liverpool fans?
Of course, if the season is declared void then there will be knock-on effects. If a season is incomplete then you can’t ascertain or determine promotion, relegation, European qualification etc. So what happens to the enormous cash cow that is the ECL for 2021? I suspect it will suit UEFA no end as they’ll simply hand-pick contestants for the tournament or at least an equivalent. We could probably write a list now. What happens in the interim period where the football is inevitably suspended? Players are on contracts and will need paying. In the meantime, there will be no gate receipts, there will be no sponsorship and what about the TV money? Are Sky going to continue to pour billions into a product that they can’t televise and reap subscriptions and advertising revenue from? I’ve no idea as to the depth of the contract but there are plenty of clubs reliant on that income. If that comes to a halt, what then?
Further down the pyramid, the amounts of money are smaller, but the implications of any reasonably long-term suspension will surely be exacerbated. No TV money down there; gate receipts and sponsorship gone, how on earth will they survive?
Of course, for Norwich City it might well facilitate the unlikely miracle of survival. The hard facts are that unless all fixtures are fulfilled then it is impossible to say that we’d definitely go down even if the probability suggests that it’s inevitable. Imagine that? Staying up when we perhaps didn’t deserve to? That would stick in the craw of some fans. In Leeds. You know what, though? If that does come to pass, I won’t feel in the slightest bit guilty. I’m old enough to remember the other half of Liverpool being Champions, Everton. They had a great side too, Southall, Ratcliffe, Sheedy, Reid, Steven, Sharpe, Gray and others. Yet they decided to treat their last game against Coventry City – who were shit – as a bit of a jolly. They got pissed the night before and lost 4-1. Miraculously, that meant that Coventry stayed up and relegated Norwich City.
I’ve never forgiven that. The league even changed the bloody rules so that it couldn’t happen again. Didn’t help us though, did it?
So, end the season now. Liverpool still haven’t won the league and the one season Leeds avoid choking they are thwarted by a cough. Perhaps they could play a version of the Charity Shield to decide who had been “robbed” the most? The Non-Champions of England vs The Non-Champions of Europe.
Norwich stay up on a technicality, as do Luton. Ipswich get to pretend that the season never happened too, so that’s positive for the East Anglian clubs.
Back in the real world, football is going to suffer but that won’t compare to the suffering that plenty of families are going to endure because of this illness. People are going to die. Whether a load of plastic Scousers get to see Jordan Henderson lift a trophy – and inevitably pass it sideways – is insignificant. Hopefully, any action taken will mean the vast majority survive, people AND football clubs.
Oh, and if Liverpool fans DO need something to cling to, I wouldn’t look at the subsequent career of Esha Ness. He never won another race.
P.S. - I was there that day and as we left the course, it was hard to think how the day could get worse. Then the bus broke down on the journey home; I’ve never been back.