“The expression ‘to wash your hands of the matter’ originates from the trial of the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Jewish authorities were anxious to put Jesus to death, but lacked the authority to do so. This was vested in the Roman government of the day, and specifically in Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor.
Pilate personally did not wish to see Jesus crucified, as he knew he was guilty of no crime. But Pilate caved in to the popular demand.
He ‘washed his hands’ of Jesus, symbolically protesting he was innocent of his murder.
Yet his protest was merely symbolic and not actual. He could have prevented Jesus’ crucifixion, but didn’t.
Pilate looked after ‘number one’ and succumbed to popular demand for Jesus’ crucifixion.” (Cross, 2013)
It’s great to see the support Wigan Athletic are receiving from the football community after they recently went into administration. It’s great to see journalists asking questions, and the EFL being forced to clarify their position on what could result in an extremely harsh relegation.
It’s great to see that people care.
For a community that places such importance on integrity and sporting justice, why has Tranmere Rovers’ apparent expulsion from League One been almost completely ignored?
The Merseyside club are set to play next season in League Two, with the EFL happy to relegate them based on a points per game (PPG) model. The reason for the relegation? Being less than 0.6 of a point worse off than the team above them, having played one game fewer.
If that doesn’t already sound incredibly harsh, the missing game from Tranmere’s season away at Rochdale was postponed due to a waterlogged pitch. Had Tranmere had the chance to play, they could have been level on points with AFC Wimbledon.
This would have meant the EFL’s decision not only relegated a team on PPG, but also on goal difference. Would they have been so quick to pull the trigger in that scenario?
Without going into great detail, the absurdity of the process for finishing the season should be addressed. Clubs were able to vote to curtail the current campaign, knowing exactly which position they would then finish in the table.
Effectively – no actually, not effectively but literally – teams voted to secure their own promotion, play-off spot or safety from relegation. That is not a democratic vote.
If a political party knew they were currently ahead in votes on polling day, should they be allowed to end voting there and then?
All of this resulted in Tranmere being a sacrificial lamb for the benefit of the clubs voting for their own interests, including many who had nothing to play for. The clubs should never have been put in such a position, and the lack of questioning of the EFL over this is worrying.
In and of themselves, the automatic promotions that took place from League One and League Two are not so questionable. But the play-off situation should have been handled better.
Given the unprecedented circumstances caused by the pandemic, the EFL had a choice. Instead of opting to reward the many and punish the few, though, the opposite happened.
The play-offs in both divisions should each have been extended to eight teams. This would have avoided clubs within touching distance of the play-off spots (Peterborough, Sunderland, Doncaster, Port Vale, Bradford) unfairly missing out.
Yes, this would have resulted in a few teams being added who weren’t necessarily in the mix (Gillingham, Forest Green, Salford City). But is that worse than what actually happened and all the others being excluded?
Ipswich, above Gillingham on points but below them on PPG, might have been upset to miss out in these circumstances. Ultimately, though, nothing is really taken away from these clubs in mid-table – it’s about rewarding a couple of additional teams to prevent punishing others.
The PPG model almost suggests that the remaining league fixtures not played were irrelevant anyway. By its very definition, it ignores them and judges only on what’s happened so far.
Given the global crisis, would it have been such a hardship to use common sense and keep more clubs and fans happy? The regular season never finished, but the EFL simply acted as if it had for the quickest, easiest and most thoughtless solution.
Regarding relegation, it’s fair to say that Bolton and Southend accepted they would be relegated even if the season continued. Neither reportedly voted to continue the campaign, even knowing what their fate would be if it was curtailed.
Therefore, it would not have been unreasonable to confirm their demotion to League Two. But applying the same logic to Tranmere when such fine margins are involved makes no sense.
Just five points separated Tranmere from MK Dons, who had played a game more. Rochdale and Wimbledon were even closer.
A completely unorthodox relegation decider could have seen these four teams enter a play-off of sorts. This could have been structured based on league position.
Rochdale and MK Dons – the two highest-ranked based on the actual league table and PPG – could have faced off. The winner would be safe from relegation, while the loser would then play Wimbledon with the same stipulation.
This would leave Tranmere with one game to save themselves. Rochdale and MK Dons would have three if required, while Wimbledon would have two if required.
In league terms, Rochdale or MK Dons losing three games would likely spell danger for them anyway. And if all three games were against relegation rivals, could there be a genuine grievance that it was undeserved?
The same applies to Wimbledon if they lost both games – especially the final one against Tranmere. These teams were still due to meet in the league, where a Tranmere win would have seen them move level on points.
An unfinished season should at least give teams a chance. And while the above suggestions might sound a bit crazy, does it sound any more unjust than what’s actually happened?