Town's League One rivals call for EFL to use 'strongest-possible measures' to combat Covid call-offs

AFC Wimbledon have called on the EFL to act strongly in regard to Covid call-offs

AFC Wimbledon have called on the EFL to act strongly in regard to Covid call-offs - Credit: PA

AFC Wimbledon have called for teams who postpone games due to Covid outbreaks to be ‘held to account’ by the EFL.  

The Dons, sitting 17th in League One, have seen back-to-back matches against Charlton and Portsmouth postponed due to Covid cases in the opposition team. 

Of the 33 scheduled EFL games on Boxing Day, only nine were played due to Covid call-offs, with Ipswich Town’s visit to Gillingham one of those postponed due to an outbreak at the Kent club. 

The EFL have moved to clarify rules on call-offs, with teams expected to play on as long as they have 14 players available, including a goalkeeper. 

But Wimbledon, in a strongly-worded letter to the EFL, have called for full scrutiny regarding the circumstances of each call off as well as strong deterrents in a bid to ensure games are played. 

They also call for the return of rules which allowed teams to use five substitutes, which were in place throughout last season. 

The London side also stress they, on one of the smallest budgets in the division, have worked tirelessly to maintain the safety of their players and limit the number of cases at the club, meaning they have been able to field sides despite operating on ‘a fraction of the resources’ of their League One rivals. 

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Ipswich have been repeatedly praised by the EFL for their handling of the Covid situation, which has included maintaining a number of distancing measures at the club’s training ground, traveling on multiple coaches to away games and doing everything possible to ‘maintain the integrity of the first-team bubble’.  

As part of their statement, Wimbledon said: “The pandemic certainly takes no prisoners but ever since it struck we have taken exhaustive measures to protect our players and ensure we were always able to field a starting X1. 

“We have managed to do that on a fraction of the resources enjoyed by many of the teams in our division - and yet now we are left with cancelled games and fixture chaos. Which puts greater strain on our already depleted squad. 

“As a result of this we have sent a strongly-worded letter to the EFL spelling out how we feel - and calling on them, as our governing body, to take a much stronger stance going forward.” 

Town return to action on Wednesday against Wycombe, while Wimbledon also play that night against Oxford. 

Ipswich were due to travel to Plough Lane on January 8, but that game has now been moved to Tuesday January 25, due to the Dons’ participation in the third round of the FA Cup. 

The Blues’ postponed Boxing Day game with Gillingham will now be played on January 8 instead. 


AFC Wimbledon’s letter to the EFL 

We are writing to openly express our disappointment over the recent spate of matches that member clubs have been unable to fulfil. 

We also want to take this opportunity to call on the EFL to undertake its due processes and implement the strongest-possible measures to ensure that -  where a club is able to fulfil a fixture - it does so.  

Further, where it is found that a club was unable to fulfil a fixture, they must be held to account for all decisions which led to that position. 

We would also like to advocate for the reintroduction of 5 substitutions per match. With a congested fixture calendar now a guarantee for all clubs, we would wish to have every tool available to us in order to manage our squad best.  

At the point of writing, six of the 10 fixtures on EFL League One’s Boxing Day schedule cannot be fulfilled. On the weekend of the 18th December, six of the 12 scheduled matches did not go ahead, again because the matches could not be fulfilled.  

AFC Wimbledon has one of the smallest playing budgets in the league and alongside this, one of the smallest first-team playing squads. The club is a London club, where Coronavirus has been most rife. A State of Emergency has been declared by the Mayor of London. Yet since the new Omicrom variant became prevalent, only 11 cases of Coronavirus have been recorded in our playing squad and first-team management (of which only three have been in our player and staff first-team bubble).  

This is not by luck. This is down to hard work and spending resources our club ultimately does not have at its disposal.  

This is the players sacrificing their ability to spend time with their loved ones. Christmas gatherings have been cancelled and everyone at the club has played their part; the players have to be truly commended for their commitment.  

At significant cost, we have tested players twice weekly since the beginning of the season. In the weeks before the Red Zone protocols were brought into effect, we upped this to three tests per week. 

We then moved to Red Zone protocols with daily testing in the week before the EFL’s announcement of such measures.  

The club has isolated individuals and chosen not to select players for match-day squads. We have taken some very difficult decisions to manage our squad, which most likely led to a loss of on-field competitiveness.  

Training has been impacted by the immediate removal or our U23 and loan players from our training group (due to the likelihood of exposure to Covid-19 at their non-league loan clubs).  

If we can make all this work - on such limited resources - then so should the rest.  

AFC Wimbledon understands that we are not alone in undertaking these measures and acknowledges some clubs may well have gone further.  

However, we can’t help feeling the preventative measures taken by the club ultimately cost us a competitive edge on the pitch earlier in the season.  Yet now, when our measures are truly coming into their own, we have been hit financially with the postponement of our two-largest revenued fixtures of the season.  

Whilst acknowledging that two further dates have been created in the fixture list (with the removal of Emirates FA Cup Replay dates in Rounds 3 and 4), no team would enter this competition with the hope of getting a replay.  

You play to win first time around, thus giving entrance into the next round and alleviating potential fixture congestion. We will now be forced into playing these matches, at a rapid turnaround, which will have a serious effect on the players’ physical and mental welfare.  

It just doesn’t sit right that, having gone above and beyond our means to ensure matches can be fulfilled, we will now be at a disadvantage - trying to navigate a very congested second half of the season with a small squad.  

Meanwhile, clubs with larger squads will have the upper hand, having been provided the opportunity to take a more relaxed approach knowing there will be no penalties for conduct that sits outside of the protocols.

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