As I pulled into the MKM Stadium Car Park to cover the Hull City vs Blackburn Rovers game on Boxing Day afternoon, I had barely got out of the car when someone waved in my direction and mouthed “game’s off”.
Sure enough, I checked Twitter (the fastest source of news bar none), and I saw the official Hull City account had tweeted the following statement.
“Today’s match has been postponed due to positive Covid-19 cases in our squad, so we are unable to field the required number of players for the game.
We apologise to both sets of fans for the inconvenience caused by the late notice.”
A later, more detailed statement said that the game was postponed “due to positive Covid-19 cases in our squad, and therefore we are unable to field the required number of players for the game.”
It went on, “Following more confirmed positive cases this morning, the club have informed the EFL that we would be unable to fulfil the fixture and the match will now be rearranged.
All individuals who have tested positive are self-isolating as per government guidelines.
We apologise to both sets of supporters for the disappointment and inconvenience caused by the late notice, but the health and wellbeing of our players and staff must be our priority.
A rearranged date for the fixture will be confirmed in due course.”
Both sets of fans blame the club - but the EFL should be taking responsibility
Both sets of fans were obviously frustrated by the situation in East Yorkshire, with many Blackburn fans taking to Twitter to call out the home club. Even Bradley Dack - yet to make an appearance this season - couldn’t wait to have a pop at Hull City, but the elephant in the room was that this wasn’t the Tigers’ fault at all.
The EFL had maintained that the game should still go ahead, despite Head Coach Grant McCann testing positive the day before Christmas Eve.
As I understand it, a number of City players had also tested positive - 14 was the number given in an interview by current owner Ehab Allam - but following tests done in the morning of the fringe players and academy products (many of whom would have made their debuts and will be more gutted than anyone), it transpired that even more positive cases meant City couldn’t field a team.
By the time the club had their emergency meeting and informed the EFL (who made the decision to postpone the game), it was already too late for the majority of people who were either mid-journey or had already arrived at the ground.
EFL COVID protocols need to be questioned
The protocols of the EFL must be questioned here. Players undergo rigorous testing - twice a week since the omicron variant has been a threat. However, to test on the day of the game - with an already depleted squad - seems farcical.
When much was unknown about COVID and it’s effects, there was a lot of caution - and rightly so. City had their Boxing Day fixture and the one after that postponed last year because of a COVID outbreak, which was the right thing to do at the time. The vaccine was not available and the country then went into a third lockdown in what was truly the hardest time of their lives for many people.
Either postpone early or play the game - it doesn’t seem too difficult
Things are different now. Whether players have chosen to have the vaccine or not, they are readily available, as are the booster doses. When are we going to get to a point where only those who feel genuinely ill have to test and self-isolate? What was the point of making the vaccine so readily available if we still postpone games when players test positive but may not even feel any effects whatsoever?
In hindsight, the writing was on the wall when McCann tested positive a few days ago. The protocols should have seen the game cancelled then, and there would have been plenty of notice for both sets of supporters - which the EFL have again disregarded completely. If they weren’t going to do this, and they wanted the game to be played, surely the answer is not to test players on the morning of the game? With fourteen players already positive, why the the EFL insist the game was still played?
The EFL need to ensure that their protocols are clarified and probably amended for future weeks. This isn’t the first last minute cancellation in December, and I would be incredibly surprised if it’s the last.