For the first time since the end of the Second World War, we’re seeing no football being played, no Saturday rituals, no acca busting results, no turnstiles turning, no chants, no Gilette Soccer Saturday or Sports Report on the Radio.
Now to get this clear from the start, having no football at this moment in time is absolutely the right thing to do. There are quite rightly more important matters at hand in the world than football right now.
However, it makes it no less disconcerting to have that constant many of us have each week taken away from us. At least in those summer months when there’s no International tournament, we can all read about the exciting transfer rumours or even watch other sports.
If I’m cooking the dinner in the kitchen at home or venturing out in the car or with my headphones walking somewhere, I’m either listening to football or listening to experts talk about football. The latest big match coming up or managerial sacking or new signing, it’s what I’ve grown up with.
Football has been a constant in my life for nearly 30 years now, ever since going to Upton Park with my Mother and Granddad at the age of seven, being handed a programme by the local programme seller who would stand outside his house in East Ham. I regrettably lost that programme but have since bought another copy on eBay.
That was the day I fell in love with football. August 1991, West Ham United v Notts County in the First Division. Rather fittingly, we lost the game 2-0, but I didn’t care – I was fascinated.
A love affair with football had begun that would result in more bad times than good down the years, but I’m sure that’s the case for most of those reading. At the end of it all I’m sure we would all admit that if our team won every week, it would get boring. As I told my son recently, the good times wouldn’t be as good without the bad ones.
Like many of us, I’m having to satisfy my need for football by watching classic matches replayed online (last night it was Germany 1-5 England) or watching excellent documentaries like the recent BT Sport Jimmy Greaves film. Podcasts are also great for this, I’ve long been a Podcast fan and football is obviously a big part of this.
A personal favourite is ‘Quickly Kevin Will He Score?’ with the last leg’s Josh Widdecombe and his friend Chris Skull, who is part of the West Ham media team. It’s dedicated to all things 90’s Football, which for me, of course, is my favourite era of football due to those being my formative years as a fan.
One of the episodes includes Matt Le Tissier discussing the time Ali Dia blagged a seat on the Southampton bench for a Premier League match by claiming to be George Weah’s cousin. He was introduced during the match, only to be taken off again by an embarrassed Graeme Souness when it became obvious that his claims to be the Ballon d’Or winner’s cousin didn’t mean he was a good player (with the claim later being found to be false).
There’s also an episode featuring Paul Merson discussing his time at Middlesbrough, telling the boys how the club also paid his brother to live with him so he could keep him company on his long drives up from his home in St Albans and in the hotel at the weekend.
Back to now; it’s been great to see the Premier League club captains reportedly coming together to form the #playerstogether fund to raise money for the NHS. Plus, there’s also been suggestions that the Premier League will also share much-needed funds with the EFL clubs to try to ensure they stay afloat, without the crucial income gate receipts give them each week. Hopefully this will be the beginning of a change in outlook from those at the top of the game to those further down.
Surely the Premier League know that without those clubs lower down in the pyramid, football in this country will lose much of its romance. In April 2018, I went with my boss to watch AFC Wimbledon draw 2-2 with Oldham Athletic in a relegation scrap. He was brought up as a Chelsea fan but fell out of love with the club around the time the Abramovich era began, not liking the direction football was heading and the negativity coming from the fans every week despite the success. AFC Wimbledon’s phoenix-like rise from the very lowest leagues, plus the fact they were on his doorstep, offered a purer and more enjoyable experience for him.
Standing on the terraces reminded me then of how some of the magic of going to football has been lost in the current days of the Premier League’s safe seating, modern luxury and the often-unrealistic expectation it brings. That smell of burgers, onions and stale beer that adds to the positive atmosphere of, ‘even if we lose, we’re just happy to have a football club to watch’ was truly enlightening.
One thinks of those poor Bury supporters now without a club and the possibility of them being joined by others, thanks to the dire consequences of no football that the Coronavirus has given us in a time when many clubs were already battling for their existence as it was.
Anyway, what this time of reflection has reminded us all is not to take football for granted when it does eventually come back. Whether it be watching the Champions League or Premier League from the comfort of our armchairs or watching a League Two or National League midweek match from the terraces in the pouring rain, these days remind us that absence certainly does make the heart grow fonder.