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Coronavirus, World War 2 & every time global football been cancelled in history

12:00 AM GMT+8 23/03/2020
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It takes something truly serious for sport to be put on hold and it has not happened on a global or continental scale very often in modern history

The world of football generally exists in a bubble, where the game and its players can go about business without much, if any, consideration to what is happening outside the borders of the sport.

That sense of detachment has helped it endure through tumultuous times, allowing the sport to remain a near-constant feature of life for many.

However, as much as football can be separate from the rest of reality, it has disappeared from public life in times of global crisis. 

It hasn't happened often, but Goal takes a look at times when football was disrupted globally.

Coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak

The global Covid-19 pandemic brought professional football across the world to a standstill in 2020 with the reverberations of the deadly coronavirus felt all over the world.

The outbreak occurred in China in December 2019 and, as the situation deteriorated in the country, all aspects of public life were ground to a halt, including football, which was postponed in January.

It soon spread beyond China's borders and an increasing number of football competitions were postponed indefinitely while governments sought to limit the spread of the virus and mitigate its impact.

In Europe, Italy's Serie A was the first of the continent's top five leagues to postpone matches, with the first delay happening at the end of February. The Italian government then mandated that sport - including Serie A matches - should only take place behind closed doors, before ordering a full suspension of activity on March 9, as the situation worsened.

When footballers and individuals closely associated with clubs began to test positive for the virus, decision-makers began to act with more urgency.

Notably, on the same night that the Premier League indicated a willingness to forge ahead with games in line with what was then UK government policy, Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta was confirmed to have had the virus, setting in motion a swift series of events that led to the suspension of professional football in England.

La Liga, Ligue 1 and the Bundesliga also postponed fixtures as Spain, France and Germany contended with increasing numbers of cases.

With so many of its top leagues forced into suspension, European football's confederation UEFA eventually relented and announced that Euro 2020 would be deferred one year until 2021, while its South American counterpart CONMEBOL did likewise with Copa America 2020.

At the end of March 2020, the only football available to watch on UK TV was A-League action from Australia, as the rest of the world's top football competitions were shut down, in some cases for several months.

Second World War

It will come as little surprise to learn that the outbreak of World War 2 meant that football took a back seat in many countries as the people had their full attention focused on the 'war effort', though, interestingly, the impact was not as widespread as the Covid-19 crisis, affecting mainly Europe.

In England, most leagues were suspended mid-way through the 1939-40 season and normal service did not resume again until 1946-47. Many footballers signed up to fight in the war and, tragically, many died.

While national leagues were put on hold during this time in England, regional football matches were still held. Competitions known as 'The Wartime League' and 'The War Cup' replaced the on-hold Football League and the FA Cup, with authorities at the time defending their existence as morale-boosting recreational outlets for workers.

It was controversial, however, because it was felt that large-scale gatherings of people, such as those found at football matches, would be at risk as a potential target for enemies.

National league football was also cancelled in France for the duration of the war, before resuming in 1945-46.

The war also, unsurprisingly, had an impact on the World Cup, a competition then in its infancy, as two editions - 1942 and 1946 - were cancelled.

However, even as dark as things were in the period between 1939 and 1945, some national leagues persevered. 

In Spain, the Primera Division was suspended during the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), but it was uninterrupted by the Second World War, while Serie A in Italy continued as normal until 1943 before its cancellation in 1944-45 (normal service resumed in 1945-46).

Germany's Gauliga carried on throughout the duration of the war, with Schalke proving the most successful club in that period as they won three out of six championships between 1939 and 1944. German football was subsequently impacted in the aftermath of the war though, with no national league in operation until 1948.

First World War 1

As a sport, football was still very much in its formative stages when World War 1 broke out in 1914 and the organised game was impacted significantly during the hostilities.

The national leagues of England, France, Italy, Germany and more were all suspended while the fighting took place. La Liga in Spain, of course, was not in operation as it was not founded until 1929.

As with the Second World War, many footballers signed up to fight in World War 1 and the British forces even had a dedicated 'Football Battalion', which was led by former Birmingham City player Frank Buckley. Players from all sorts of clubs were involved, including some from Manchester United and Chelsea, among others.

The First World War is memorable for the story of the 'Christmas Truce' during which a football match is said to have been played between German and British soldiers.

While it is unlikely that an organised match was played, there are many testimonies of impromptu games happening and the mythos around it has served as a powerful symbol of common humanity.

Not long after the war ended, football leagues resumed for the 1919-20 season, but it wouldn't be long before they were interrupted forcefully again.