We are all products of conditioning through the camera angle of our personal prism. Seeing is believing. Our truth is the truth even though partly subjective. Even if Frank Lampard is pushing fantasy. Narrow-mindedness is an infection that can come through the application of routine, but it’s routine we miss. When something comes along and breaks it all up – like, say, a global pandemic – to carry on regardless is all very British until a tipping point is reached.
As the nation trudges on with the required ‘discipline’ to fight the second wave, the sporting parts of our lives are still in a massive mess. The silence from the stands is still deafening. There is actual football. There are lots of goals. There’s Jordan Pickford. There are League Cup games on Thursdays. It’s all happening but still feels as hollow as cheap Christmas chocolate. Football is live but it’s not really kicking.
Walls of noise have been on simulated Disney animation for three months now. It may well be another six months or more before anyone sees sight and smell of a Premier League or Championship ball. Does it matter? Does it really matter? Yes, to borrow a politically legal phrase, ‘in a limited and specific way’. Or, as Bill Paxton said to the company man in Aliens who places the dollar above lives: “Hey, maybe you haven’t been keeping up on current events, but we just got our asses kicked, pal!” Tis a pity Sigourney Weaver can’t nuke the Covid queen off the face of the earth.
Of course, the company man has spoken through the prism of the PL statement this week: “Football is not the same without attending fans and the football economy is unsustainable without them…our national game is losing more than £100m per month. This is starting to have a devastating impact on clubs and their communities.”
Starting to? This is no joke. Livelihoods are at stake. Clubs are on the brink. However, football has always carried a deeper resonance outside its corporate brief. Frank Lampard, in perhaps another welcome fantasy moment, is calling for action to save the EFL. “I think it’s important that the Premier League as a collective looks at supporting the EFL, the leagues below and grassroots football, absolutely. That’s the base of why we’re all here.” We hope.
The government announcement on ‘pausing’ the return of fans because of the spike in COVID-19 cases looks semi-terminal for the season. We await the return of real faces and sounds beyond the bench while as we continue to become experts on Jordan Henderson’s vocabulary.
In these strange, strained times, most have adjusted to that temperature dial change, even if watching without real sonics felt like the ice bucket challenge at first. When we were all in this together (remember back then?) when football had no chance of making an appearance, there was a solemn realisation of a connection through disconnection. Universality brought kinship to an extent. So when the game returned via the relative neutrality of the Bundesliga, we were all taken aback with the first birdsong. “Wow, don’t you just love the sound of the goal net rippling?” The age of innocence had a brief reawakening. Even Jurgen Klopp was taken: “We all started playing football without supporters and we loved this game not because of the atmosphere in a stadium.”
It looks like 4 people from 2 families won’t be able to sit outside socially distanced in our stands watching @officialcufc. @michaelgove just said on @BBCr4today 4 people from 2 families can sit round a table inside eating a meal out though. pic.twitter.com/dEUZnM5Xja
— Nigel Clibbens (@NClibbens) September 22, 2020
Now, as we stare into the abyss of the cold turkey of Christmas, there will be little chance of killing Gran. At the moment, football society is as dissonant as ever, but with no chance to at least breathe the same air. You can have your bio-secure environments but we need some level of togetherness to feel the spirit of football again, don’t we? Or do we?
There was a period during the Wolves and Manchester City game on Monday where the visitors appeared to have the ball for 15 minutes non-stop. This was no doubt an admirable window of City’s first-half excellence but it was an eerie thing that drifted in an industrial wasteland. An already passive Chelsea, down to ten men on Sunday, visibly struggled with the concept of a fightback without anyone on their side while Liverpool stroked it around like a training session in Marbella.
We should be grateful that football can still sing in a world that is stripped back. It’s an acoustic set. The big production values of the audience are not there but the game is still ours. It’s just not sustainable. We know that inside but do not want to say it out loud.
Still, at least they are bringing forward the Liverpool v Arsenal game on Monday night so we can still get the last pint in. Some routines just cannot be curtailed.
Tim Ellis – follow him on Twitter