Following the FA’s decision to cancel all 2019-20 seasons below National League level, Steve Sharman takes a closer look at the psychological impact on the teams who will be hit hardest — and on those who will profit…
The great Bill Shankly once claimed that football was more serious than life or death. Yet with the escalation of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, it is apparent that football authorities do not agree with Shankly’s sentiment.
Whilst the future of the 2019/20 Premier League season remains uncertain, football across the 91 leagues in steps three to seven of non-league football has been cancelled, with the results of the season so far expunged from the records.
For clubs in these leagues, it’s as though the 19/20 season simply didn’t happen.
The decision has devastated clubs at the top of their respective divisions. Arguably the hardest hit are Jersey Sports of the Combined Counties League Division 1, who maintained a 100% record after 27 league games and held an unassailable 20-point lead at the top of the table. Similarly struck are Vauxhall Motors of the North-West Counties League Division 1 South, who had also already secured promotion. Teams who thought they had secured promotion now find themselves facing the prospect of an abandoned season leaving them empty handed.
An event that almost happens, but then doesn’t, can be called a near-miss. Within this category, a near-win can be defined as coming close to a desired outcome but being denied at the last: feeling you are close to a win but finishing with nothing. In psychology research, experiencing a near-win has been shown to generate negative feelings such as unfairness and injustice: emotions often explained by psychologists through theories such as frustration theory, or cognitive regret.
For clubs who thought they had already secured success or were just a few points from glory, having the ultimate goal of promotion prised from their grasp through events beyond their control will create an unyielding sense of injustice. However, despite an often negative emotional response, near-wins also create motivation to continue a particular behaviour, to alleviate the frustration, and to redress the perceived unfairness. It can therefore be argued that those teams cruelly denied their rightful triumph will come back hungrier for success than ever.
At the opposite end of the tables and of the near-miss psychological spectrum are those teams for whom the abrupt curtailing of the season will save them from almost certain relegation. In the Southern League Division 1 (Central), Wantage FC have accrued a meagre four points from 28 games, and have a goal difference of -105. The Alfredians are almost certain to finish bottom of the table, but the FA’s intervention means they could start 20/21 in the same division.
This type of near-miss can be called a near-loss. Those that experience a near-loss often subsequently perceive themselves as lucky, and therefore are more willing to engage in riskier behaviour or approach a task with a renewed sense of confidence. Being thrown an unexpected lifeline could impact a club’s approach to the next season, both on and off the pitch.
The FA’s decision to end the season and expunge the records has not been well received by the clubs, with over 100 teams signing an open letter asking the FA to reconsider.
If the FA stand by the decision, teams that will experience a near-win by dominating their respective leagues but finishing with nothing will feel extremely hard done by, whilst those that experience a near-loss by surviving almost certain relegation will feel like they have been given an extra life. Both outcomes could significantly impact how the clubs’ approach next season, whenever and however that is played out.
Follow Steve on Twitter @stevesharman81