Dominic Scurr's verdict: Hartlepool United's coronavirus postponement at Barnet highlights a huge problem in the National League as Notts County play on

It seems only coronavirus can stop Hartlepool United at the moment.

Sunday, 18th October 2020, 8:00 am

Pools’ near-perfect start to the National League season hit its first bump in the road at Barnet on Saturday as the match was postponed due to coronavirus safety concerns.

Late on Friday night, Barnet confirmed that one of their first-team players had tested positive for coronavirus and an unspecified number of their squad would have to self isolate.

As a result, the match due to take place at The Hive at 3pm on Saturday afternoon has to be rearranged for a later date with Pools now facing a 500-mile round trip to North London on a Tuesday night in November.

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Story of the day: Barnet v Pools postponed

Pools first heard the news at 9:40pm on Friday from Barnet’s club medical officer. Shortly after, the National League had confirmed the postponement of the fixture following medical advice.

Barnet’s club statement, posted at 11:15pm on Friday evening read: “The Club can confirm that our Vanarama National League fixture with Hartlepool United has been postponed, due to a positive COVID-19 test amongst our First Team squad.

“As a result of the positive test a number of first team members will now self isolate until a negative test is returned. Consequently, due to safety reasons our National League fixture with Hartlepool United has been postponed.

General view outside The Hive stadium, where Hartlepool United were set to play Barnet on Saturday afternoon (Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

“The Club will now follow advice from the relevant authorities and provide a further update in due course.”

No further comment has since been made by the club.

And with Pools flying high at the top of the National League table going into the game, the postponement was as untimely as it was frustrating for Dave Challinor’s side.

Claudio Ofosu finds the net for Hartlepool United at Maidenhead (photo: Frank Reid).

The match was one of five to be called off across the National League and National League North on Saturday due to coronavirus concerns.

It’s a clear reminder of the tightrope clubs are walking through the coronavirus pandemic and the ongoing uncertainty surrounding the current season. There’s also a very uneasy feeling that the worse is yet to come.

But it also indicates the lack of consistency across the division as Notts County v Maidenhead United went ahead as planned despite four Notts players testing positive for the virus ahead of the game.

The Magpies seemed determined to get their game to go ahead while Barnet erred on the side of caution, and in that lies the problem.

Hartlepool United manager Dave Challinor during the Vanarama National League match between Hartlepool United and Aldershot Town at Victoria Park, Hartlepool on Saturday 3rd October 2020. (Credit: Christopher Booth | MI News)

For example, club’s could exploit positive coronavirus cases to their advantage and get out of matches where they may be without a key player.

It goes without saying that postponements should be seen as a last resort and club’s should do whatever they can to get a match to go ahead safely.

But inconsistent guidance surrounding coronavirus effectively gives clubs the discretion to act in their own self-interest. Firmer, more clear rules need to be established and applied across the board.

Can both clubs field a team of players safely? If so, the game goes ahead. If a club chooses not to, they forfeit the match. If a club absolutely can’t field a team because of coronavirus then the match gets rearranged.

That's perhaps a slightly heavy-handed approach but it would at least ensure some form of consistency across the board.

With this season’s fixture schedule being tighter than usual, and with the FA Cup and FA Trophy fixtures still to come into play, the last thing clubs need is the threat of regular postponements looming over them.

There is a very real risk of a significant fixture pile-up come the latter months of the season without a better approach to establish a level playing field.

Pools can be frustrated with Barnet following the late postponement but it’s hard to be overly critical of the Bees in that regard without getting into conspiracy theory territory.

The main issue is their lack of transparency and communication. The Barnet player was tested on Wednesday yet Hartlepool didn’t hear anything until late on Friday night, once they had made the 250-mile trip and all travel, hotel rooms and meals had been paid for.

As Challinor put it: “We just need a bit more transparency between clubs because it wouldn’t have taken anything for Barnet just to let us know that there was a player being tested on Wednesday and it could have saved us a lot of money.”

The trip will have cost the club in the region of £5,000 – all of which could have been avoided had Barnet communicated their concerns earlier in the week.

It's unlikely that Pools will be reimbursed for the costs incurred as a result of the ultimately pointless trip as the overnight stay was by no means mandatory.

While Pools shouldn’t be punished for being prepared, perhaps we will see a more stringent and frugal approach to managing overnight stays in order to avoid future incidents and unnecessary costs moving forward.

In normal circumstances, it’s usually the supporters who are hit the worst by late postponements. One silver lining of matches being paid behind closed doors is that at least incidents like this won’t hit fans in the pocket.

Saturday’s postponement knocked Hartlepool off the top of the table as they returned to the North East without any points, although their unbeaten record remains intact.

But having picked up 10 points from their opening four games, the side will have gone two weeks without a league match by the time they host Altrincham at Victoria Park a week on Tuesday.

The side’s early-season momentum risks being lost due to something outside of their control.

But it’s likely a lot of things that happen between now and the end of the season will be outside of the club’s control.

They’ve just got to keep calm and carry on with it as best they can.

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