THURSDAY’S BIG STORIES

What an incredible idea

Football
SPFL to investigate St Mirren over alleged COVID-19 breach
35 MINUTES AGO

Fans! Fans in stadiums! Fans in stadiums watching the Football League! You’ll forgive the exclamation marks, it’s been a while.

It’ll be eight rather than 10 — neither Luton Town nor Morecambe can get their grounds ready in time. But still, given that no fan has been to see a Football League game since March, this feels like a pretty big moment. Here’s Rick Parry, chair of the EFL:

The health and well-being of supporters and their wider communities remains the priority, but as we showed at Cambridge, social distancing can be applied safely. By extending across more EFL Clubs we hope to further demonstrate that the measures developed can allow fans to return in greater numbers from as early as next month.

Whether the ambition to see “greater numbers” return will be thwarted by a resurgence of the pandemic remains to be seen: it is, at the very least, extremely jarring that this is happening at the same time as much of the north-east is heading for new stringent restrictions. Live football in Teesside; curfews in County Durham.

But at the very least, if this goes well, then the Football League will have done some of the work towards proving that there are options for football beyond an empty stadium. Let’s hope it goes well.

Macc Town RIP

In bleaker news, Macclesfield Town — founded 1874, nearly 150 years ago — were yesterday wound-up in the High Court. The presiding judge found there was no evidence that their owner, Amar Alkadhi, could pay the more than £500,000 of debt the club had managed to accrue.

The death of any club is always a shock, but it would be a stretch to call this a surprise. The winding-up petition had been adjourned multiple times since it was first filed back in January 2019, and last November the playing squad went on strike over unpaid wages. Points deductions through last season saw them ultimately relegated from the Football League.

Macclesfield’s dissolution comes just a few months after Bury’s collapse. Also yesterday, Southend United were given another stay of execution, another 42 days to clear debts of almost £500,000, while Wigan have been warned that they’re running out of time as well. A chilly wind is blowing through the pyramid, and soon everybody will want to know: what the hell have the Football League been up to all this time?

League Cup! League Cup! Get your League Cup here!

That the Carabao Cup is happening at all this season is something of a surprise, given [gestures vaguely at everything]. But here we are, and there went most of the second round. And— wait, Southampton? What happened there then?

The real star of the evening was Everton’s Anthony Gordon, a mere 19 years old, who hit the woodwork not once but twice, as well as winning a penalty. That helped Phil Neville’s Everton beat Phil Neville’s Salford City to claim the Phil Neville derby. Phil Neville must be very proud.

Elsewhere, Leeds — ahem, Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds — kept up their proud recent run of exiting the League Cup in the second round. This time they at least managed to take the penalty shoot-out pretty deep, before nature took its course. Whatever Bielsa’s drinking from that coffee cup, it’s not Carabao.

IN OTHER NEWS

PSG had another man sent off. And they almost went three full games without scoring, until Julian Draxler popped up at the end and did this. You get a lot of strange reactions after scoring, but the Warm-Up can’t recall ever seeing a team look so relieved.

IN THE CHANNELS

This is going to happen a lot this season. Lionel Messi will score a brilliant goal, because that’s what he does, and then he’ll look absolutely bloody miserable about it, because he doesn’t want to be doing it for Barcelona any more. And Barcelona’s Twitter account will stick up the video anyway, because they have to. Look! Our greatest ever player is dying inside!

HAT TIP

Over on the Athletic (£), Danny Taylor and Dermot Corrigan take a look at the season ahead for Pep Guardiola and Manchester City, who have been together quite a while now. This will be his fifth season: one more than he managed in Barcelona, and two more than Munich.

It can certainly come as a jolt to realise that Pep Guardiola is now — no kidding — the club’s longest-serving manager since Tony Book in the 1970s. Guardiola, to put it another way, has outlasted the previous 19 City managers. Or 23, if caretaker managers are included. And if he stays until the end of March, he will overtake Book, too. Nobody will have managed the club longer since Joe Mercer, from 1965 to 1971. And, hold on a moment, wasn’t it said of Guardiola that he rarely stuck around?

COMING UP

We finish off the Carabao Cup second round today, with Wolves vs. Stoke and Brighton vs. Portsmouth. And there’s a big old pile of Europa League fun happening as well: Spurs away at Lokomotiv Plovdiv, and Rangers away at Lincoln Red Imps, Gibraltar’s finest.

And the impish Tom Adams will be here on Friday to tell you all about it

Football
Mourinho unimpressed by fringe players in Antwerp defeat
AN HOUR AGO
Football
Injured Castagne to miss Leicester's next three matches
2 HOURS AGO