The reels and reels of football footage we’ve been treated to over the last few weeks have been enough to keep many of us just about sane. We’ve been forced in to a period of slowing down and challenged in how to fill our time in some instances, adapting to a pace of life we’ve not operated at for generations, but a trip down football’s memory lane has helped to some degree.
A recent podcast I started, thanks to the time and energy of friends, colleagues and relatives ’The Working Man’s Football Club’ has been a sanctuary in which to share football, even though we can’t get to the games together.
ITV (in the UK), showing the European Championships and Optus (in Australia) showing Premier League classics have been two such outlets delving in to the archives. Watching these games, from experience and speaking to others, has been some what of a short term fix.
There’s a universal system when it comes to rating the performance of football players, applied on the way back home from the game, in the pub, in the papers; how did they go, out of ten? For many, the social side of life and that feeling of connectedness is scoring lower than usual.
Those morning walks feel a little less mindful after a few weeks, and please lord, let me just have one pub meal. Please. PLEASE.
COVID has been an exercise in patience though, and with a wealth of football to consume from days gone by it underlines how much of it is previously passed us by, when there is so much of it to keep up with, and so much of it we can miss in our busy lives. It leaves us asking the question, not so much about the volume of games, but the power of the distribution platform the game now sits a top of; TV and sponsorship.
The 90 second highlight reel is the football equivalent of the one minute bed time story. When did we become so busy that reading to our kids needed to be condensed in to 60 seconds and savouring the battle of two teams slugging it out for an hour and half was compressed in to a fraction of that, watched on a phone, in your hand.
Zoom, Webex, Teams, whatever your poison; many of these calls are filled with sharing the effects of COVID, or dealing with work related challenges. Of course, these things are needed, but in a time when our brain’s are working overdrive to constantly communicate in this new way, where’s the respite?
In late March the Australian FA aired their famous win over England, at Upton Park from 2003 and this was the inspiration to connect through football in a new way, sharing games with friends and forgetting for half an hour the present, celebrating the past.
Since, there have been four more episodes of the podcast, covering Manchester United, Manchester City, Tottenham, Chelsea, Liverpool. The goal is to celebrate other clubs too, but finding footage can be a challenge.
More importantly, it has created a web, a network of connections that has outlived the initial flurry of video calls and Face Times we all embraced when our new norm was solely new, not yet normal.
Football slowly comes back to life, albeit behind closed doors. The idea of the golden ticket fan in the Premier League is a novel one, but would you want to go alone and sit in an empty stadium?To be prevented from sharing the emotions with others seems pointless almost. The stress and (hopefully) eventual relief of escaping relegation, the winning of the league, making top four, or even the play-offs and sharing the excitement of a trip to Wembley
If a man goes to an empty football stadium, hugs and kisses thin air when their team scores, and there is no-one there to see it, is it really football?
There’s no question we all want the game back, though the debate rumbles on about when and how. Jurgen Klopp recently said players began kicking balls around long before they had fans watching them. It’s not a one way street; are players giving up the vast majority of their salary (and donating large swathes of it) so they earn closer to the national average, if what really matters is competing and playing?
The move to shift domestic games on to terrestrial TV is the right one and thankfully the powers that be have seen the wood for the trees; if players are allowed back to play, fans (many suffering economic hardships) deserve the same opportunity to watch.
However it may play out; we at least have had each other in this time, be it the discussion of games via video link or otherwise.