Why Football Matters

Last week I wrote a piece asking whether football will ever be the same again. The general premise of it was that even once all of this is over, we’ll still feel cautious about spending time in the same space as other people, fearful that Covid-19, or something like it, will always be lurking in the background, ready to strike. I’m still not entirely sure that things will return to anything like normality, but the more I think about it the more important I think football is. Obviously fans of the sport don’t need me to tell them that, but what about people affected by football in a wider sense? Husbands and wives, boyfriends and girlfriends that don’t like the sport but know that their other halves do have spent most of their lives basing decisions around football. When holidays can be taken or events celebrated will have been dictated by what’s going on on the football pitch. That’s to say nothing of people whose mood depends on football results.

Then there are the community enterprises that need football to keep them afloat. The likes of Homebaked near Anfield is open every day, but makes most of its revenue on match days. I know because I’ve been stood in the queue waiting to get in and have one of their amazing chicken and veg pies on more than one occasion. We all think of the finances involved in football as being ludicrous when we think of the prices being paid for players and the value of the clubs themselves, but the ripples of money in football are much more than just that. Think of the stewards that depend on their match day pay packet, or the shops close to football grounds that need the money they take whenever there’s a game on to allow them to pay the rent and their staff. Football matters to all of those people, even if they don’t actually care about the sport themselves. It’s ‘just a game’, yes, but it’s also so much more than that.

It’s An Escape

People are extremely passionate about football. If that weren’t the case then you wouldn’t see fans of the sport going absolutely crazy every time their team played. Nor would you see football as the top trending topics on social media on a weekly basis. Yet both of those things are true. It happens because football allows people an escape from the grind of their daily lives. It gives people a purpose, as frivolous a purpose as it may be. You could be having the worst day imaginable, but sat in front of the television with the football on in front of you you can forget your troubles and concentrate on something else, even if only for a moment. It’s not just matches involving teams that you care about that people will sit and watch, either. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve watched poor teams like Stoke City, West Ham United, Burnley or Everton play matches that mean nothing to me just because I enjoy football as a spectator sport.

On the one hand, we know that football is, in the grand scheme of things, meaningless. Yet we invest so much in it because it means absolutely everything at the same time. As Liverpool supporters we’re obviously devastated that it’s been suspended at a time when it looked like we were on the verge of winning the title, but don’t think that Southampton, Blackburn Rovers or West Bromwich Albion fans aren’t just as disappointed. People use football as a marker for their week, knowing that their team will be playing on Saturday and so planning family outings for the Sunday, for example. Without games being played many people won’t know what to do with themselves, nor will they know what to talk about. Those that don’t like the sport will claim it’s a chance for people to experience the real world, but it’s not as simple as that. Whether it’s their mental health, their personal situation or just fun, many people need football in their lives.

It Offers A Community

Right now, people that are behaving in a correct and appropriate manner are isolating themselves off from the rest of the world. There are millions of people around the globe sitting in their houses, flats and apartments craving something more interesting to do than watching a Netflix documentary. Their only method of communicating with others is via messages, video chats or social media. If they’ve used that to speak to others in the past then they’re well-versed in conversing about football. Looking through my WhatsApp messages, I can see that I’m in at least four different group chats about the sport. People need a sense of community now more than ever, yet one of the main topics that they discuss has been taken away from them. It’s no wonder that so many run the risk of feeling isolated and alone. We can talk about the healthiness of that at another time, for now we just need to acknowledge that it’s a reality.

Watching, talking about and debating football takes up a huge amount of time for vast swathes of people, with many of those that I interact with on Twitter being people I’ve never even met and yet feel a kinship for. Take The Anfield Wrap as an example. All it is is a lot of men and women discussing football and football-related matters, yet those involved have managed to turn it into a business because there’s a such a craving for it. It goes without saying that the footballing authorities need to do what is safe and reasonable, but at the same time the sooner they feel that they can get it back on track the better it will be for everyone. A week ago the notion of the campaign being played out behind closed doors was nightmarish, but now most of us would give anything for that to be the case. To some it is ‘just a game’, but to many of us it is so much more than that. It’s a reason to get up in the morning, to speak to others, to live. It matters.

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