Longest season ends, pandemic issues linger for the EPL

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Michael Regan

Leicester's Jamie Vardy wipes his face during the English Premier League soccer match between Leicester City and Manchester United at the King Power Stadium, in Leicester, England, Sunday, July 26, 2020. (Michael Regan/Pool via AP)

Once the final whistle blew on the longest English Premier League, 352 days after it began, there was a sense of relief and grief for Dean Smith.

There was joy at Aston Villa avoiding relegation on the final day of the pandemic-interrupted season, and sadness for the manager who could not share the achievement with his father.

Ron Smith was one of the 45,752 recorded coronavirus victims in Britain, dying in May at the age of 79 during the league’s shutdown.

“It’s been emotional,” Dean Smith said after Sunday's 1-1 draw at West Ham. “I’m sure he’ll be looking down on us.”

The point earned in east London kept Villa just above the relegation zone. Bournemouth and Watford joined Norwich in dropping into the second flight of competition.

When the league was suddenly halted in the second week of March, after coronavirus infections were reported at Arsenal and Chelsea, Villa was two points from safety and used the hiatus to regroup.

“I thought we used it really well,” Smith said, “We had to, because we couldn’t keep doing what we were doing.”

Throughout the unprecedented 100-day pause in play, uncertainty persisted over whether the season would resume at all. Safety concerns collided with self-interest and fears about the billion-pound bill for not completing the 380 games.