As another sporting Saturday gets under way the scale of football’s error becomes clear

Date published: Sunday 11th September 2022 3:00 - Dave Tickner

England and South Africa cricketers pay tribute to Queen Elizabeth II before play in the third Test at The Oval

Football has ended up out almost on its own in deeming the only suitable way of showing respect for the death of Queen Elizabeth II being a complete cancellation of absolutely everything. It’s an error.


England’s third Test match against South Africa got belatedly under way at The Oval after a stirring and emotional tribute to both Queen Elizabeth II and the new King Charles III.

Golf has cracked on, albeit with the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth reduced to 54 holes after Friday’s play was cancelled.

Rugby union, too, is back under way this afternoon with the scheduled programme of Gallagher Premiership action.

If it wasn’t apparent already on Friday that football had got things a bit wrong, by Saturday afternoon it was inarguable.

There are caveats and mitigations, of course. It was not, as emotion ran inevitably high on Thursday evening and Friday morning, a decision as obvious as it now appears. The lack of a plan for what was the single most foreseeable major event imaginable is undoubtedly quite staggering; Friday morning’s meetings should surely have been about ironing out finer details of a long-standing decision rather than making the decision itself. But football was, evidently, not alone in that regard and had perhaps – albeit also naively based on recent events – imagined there would be a more decisive and transparent steer from Downing Street about precisely what would happen after the death of The Queen.

But really, once left to make their own decision and with everything we’re led to understand about policing and the like being no factor, then it’s a maddening error.

And the decision to postpone all grassroots football was entirely absurd. Just a total unnecessary block, especially for kids’ football when this generation of youngsters has already missed so much through Covid. Again, football has found itself outflanked and out on its own by every other sport here.

None of this is to make light of the significance of what has happened and how it has made people feel. But there is a sense of skewed priorities here.

At the most fundamental level, cancelling your own plans because you wish to mourn or show respect for The Queen is perfectly reasonable. Cancelling other people’s is not.

As other sports spent Saturday showing again and again, there were so many ways of showing respect to the historical moment in which we find ourselves that didn’t involve stopping everything. Football, incidentally, did not stop for the death of George VI.

All those tributes could easily have been replicated and very likely improved upon at the nation’s Premier League and Football League grounds. Black armbands and minute’s silences, obviously, but renditions of the National Anthem could have been genuinely spine-tingling moments.

It seems at least part of the reason behind football’s decision to “play safe” and postpone was concern that tributes would not be universally respected, causing embarrassment to the game. It’s a despairingly grim view of your own sport and its supporters. And what dissenting voices were heard would reflect society, not football, despite what the screechier tabloids would have you believe.

It’s often said that the BBC should be less concerned with what the genuinely insane Daily Mail and Daily Express think. That they should stop letting some negative coverage in some unhinged tabloids colour their decision-making. The same is apparently now true of football.

As it is, this is a decision that benefits nobody. Those who are, shall we say, not inclined towards the Monarchy are irritated by it all. Those who do have lost the chance to show the depth of their feeling in the powerful communal atmosphere of a sporting crowd.

Casual and zero-hour workers have lost a day’s pay. Fans have had plans disrupted. A million miles down the list of priorities maybe, but the fixture schedule in a uniquely challenging year just got messier.

It looked like a mis-step on Friday. By Saturday afternoon as the rest of the sporting world carried on – as, let’s not forget, befits the entire concept of an institution built on the premise of continuity, where Charles became King at the very moment of his mother’s passing – and made their own tributes it just looked ridiculous.

Look, football’s mistake is not the most important thing of the week. But that in itself is sort of the point. For all the gaudy arrogance on the surface, English football has a self-flagellatory streak to it. Worrying about what would happen if fans didn’t behave is the perfect crystallisation of it.

People can get pissed in the pub, go to the theatre, attend or play pretty much any other sport you care to mention. But not football. It may be the most important of all the unimportant things but there is absolutely no reason why it should stand alone in prostrating itself today.

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