A couple of weeks ago I wrote a piece about how football with fans was, essentially, fine. I stand by everything that I wrote in that piece, but I was talking purely from the point of view of what it’s like as a visual spectacle. Yes, the chance to meet up with friends, celebrate victories and mourn defeats with others isn’t the same, but for the millions of people around the world who never get to go to the stadium, there really isn’t a huge amount different nowadays. That I wrote the piece doesn’t mean that I don’t think supporters need to be back in the grounds up and down the country as quickly as possible, however. There are so many reasons for people to be let back into stadiums whenever it’s safe for them to return, not least of which is the fact that lower league clubs could simply cease to exist if they aren’t able to get money off people watching matches really quite quickly, which would be a crying shame.
London Palladium last night for An Evening With Arsene Wenger. Palladium is owned by Andrew Lloyd Webber, a Tory supporting multi millionaire who said he’d leave the country if Labour got in. Can anyone work out why the Palladium is open but football grounds aren’t? @OliverDowden pic.twitter.com/VQPwLi5dl0
— Adrian Durham (@talkSPORTDrive) October 13, 2020
Though Bill Shankly, Jürgen Klopp and Liverpool as a city are all left-leaning, many people don’t want politics to be associated with football. Usually it’s difficult to escape the feeling that they think that way because they know that their politics is unpalatable and don’t wish to explain why they voted a certain way. Even so, I try to keep politics out of these pieces whenever possible, so I’m going to try hard not to make this an attack on the current government. Yet it also has to be acknowledged that their decision to stop football supporters from returning is a dreadful one that will be damaging for the sport in the long-term. It’s also laced with hypocrisy, given the fact that other events have been allowed to see people return in far worse circumstances than an outdoor event. Yes, it will be far from easy to figure out the logistics of seeing people return to stadiums, but it can’t be any more difficult than getting people into and out of indoor locations.
It’s Where Memories Are Made
For plenty of people, going to the football is about far more than just what is happening on the pitch. Mention one of the best days or nights from Liverpool’s recent exploits and you’ll have people that were in the ground telling you about how they ended up in a different row from the one they started in, or how their shins were bashed and ruined during celebrations. That, of course, is partly due to the lack of safe standing in football stadiums around England, but that’s a conversation for another time. All I’ll say for now is that what we currently have is unsafe standing and it’s impossible to put that cork back in the bottle so why not make it safer for everyone? Anyway, back to the topic at hand. It’s easy to talk about the importance of making memories for Liverpool supporters, blessed as we have been under Jürgen Klopp to have a myriad of such occasions. It’s just as possible for supporters of teams not doing as well to enjoy their time in the ground, though.
The five-year anniversary of Jürgen Klopp becoming Liverpool manager today and yeah, all the winning has been great. But as good has been the pure joy of going to the match – the concourse has ruled, with few better than Brighton away in January 2019: pic.twitter.com/lwPMjYBamv
— Sachin Nakrani (@SachinNakrani) October 8, 2020
As much as we all enjoy laughing at Evertonians, imagine how much fun they’d be having right now, watching Dominic Calvert-Lewin tearing it up and their team riding high at the top of the Premier League. Similarly, how good would Aston Villa supporters have found it to be inside Villa Park when they defeated the defending champions 7-2 before the international break? Going to the football is a rite of passage for people, doing it with their mum or dad for the first time. I still remember walking up the stairs at Anfield and seeing the green baize of the pitch in front of me for the first time. How many young people are being denied that now, missing out on memories that would last them a lifetime and forming bonds with the parent or guardian who introduced them to the sport? No, grounds can’t just go back to normal. What they can do, though, is have people in them in a larger scale than the zero that are allowed in at the moment.
Winning Is The Cherry, Going The Match Is The Cake
Winning matches, competitions and trophies is the cherry that sits on top of the footballing cake. It has to be, else so many clubs would have just folded years ago. Evertonians are excited now because of the sort of football that Carlo Ancelotti has got the team playing, but they haven’t won a trophy since 1995. They haven’t won a derby at Anfield since 1999. If the sport was only about winning then our Blue brethren would have given up and taking up knitting years ago. Instead, they used to head off to Goodison Park week-in, week-out to watch the team that they love. They sell being an Evertonian as something that is in their blood, stating, “We go the game. It’s what we do.” That side of the sport is currently not available to them, however, and so thousands of them are missing out on memories and moments. Tottenham haven’t won a trophy since 2008 and goodness knows José Mourinho’s football isn’t fun to watch, but their supporters are missing out, too.
So the thing about Ollie Holt’s comments about Bale being a sticking plaster… he might be right. But it ignores all of the context, all of the nostalgia, all of the fun.
Even if Bale only manages 10 matches… even if he can barely move anymore…
I AM SO EXCITED!#BaleBack
— Chris Miller (@WindyCOYS) September 18, 2020
The return of Gareth Bale to his boyhood club might well be little more than a sticking plaster for their problems, but what a thing for the fans to get excited about. Imagine a dad telling his daughter all about the excitement of watching Bale when he was first breaking through and before he disappeared off to Real Madrid, watching her form her own memories of the Welsh wonder. What a shame that that can’t happen at the moment, but they’d be ok popping off to the London Palladium to watch An Evening With Arsene Wenger and hear the Frenchman talk about the chances of seeing Spurs’ bitter rivals succeed under Mikel Arteta. Football is about so much more than just what happens on the pitch, with what happens off it where the magic happens. Until supporters are allowed back into the ground at least in some form or another, that magic has been taken away and the consequences over time could be really quite serious.