The Covid Campaign – How Football Became Infected

It all started in March… News of this ‘China Virus’ (thanks Mr Trump) wasn’t really taken that seriously in these parts. First Italy then Germany, all of a sudden teams in top leagues started playing without fans.

News on the continent spread and football in the UEFA held tournaments (the Champions League and Europa League) then became affected by the spread of covid too. Fans couldn’t travel to games, perhaps this was more serious than first thought.

The city of Liverpool started to blame Atletico Madrid for a spread around Mersyside… The Spanish fans celebrating their UCL win at Anfield by spilling in to the bars of Mathew Street on a Tuesday night. Madrid had high rates of infection before it came to the UK.

By mid-March it was serious, more serious than that. A pandemic, an epidemic, a disaster that would cost lives by the thousands and stop economies from around the globe growing.

Football, sport, had to take a step back.

I believe by the time the spread widened, England did the right thing in closing down shop, shutting it down stopped the spread, but the plan since has all been a bit stop start and unwisely arranged.

Football was one of the instigators for bringing back ‘normality’ and football’s hastiness to restart for me was not for the right reasons. I always said when ‘safe to do so’ the 2019/20 season should have been played to its finish. After all the point of competition is to determine winners and losers, but starting another campaign without fans, without safety in place to protect players? It looks like a decision that has now back-fired.

2020/21 should simply never have gone ahead.

Notts County were one of the last teams to start their season following the Premier League’s ambition for continuation (all be it without fans), the football league had reluctantly followed suit because money dictated it did, hoping that by continuing things will ‘perhaps’ get better so its clubs will survive… The grassroots game with its own laws of who can attend what and where was being used as an ‘excuse’ to just watch football for people wanting to ‘live their lives as normal’… All this whilst covid was still spreading.

In the National League things were different, neither elite nor grassroots they did not know what to do. A government bailout allowed them to start their season… Even though it was nor financially viable or safe to do so.

And just five games in to the campaign, Notts County now have had to cancel their next three fixtures, they have dropped out of the FA Cup and for the first time since entering in 1877 they won’t compete, the spirit of the competition dumped, many sides this year smaller than Notts have already done this, forced to concede without playing a game. What is the point of football when ‘virus’ dictates who wins?

My concern is that Notts County aren’t the first, they won’t be the last, but what other rules later down the line? Should Arsenal or Manchester United become ‘infected’ would the outcome be the same?

At the minute, teams across the country are playing at least two games a week, bubbled yes, at the top at least, but immune no, the more these players travel, the more these teams play, the more susceptible they become to virus and spread.

Now I’m not for finishing football completely, but I’m for looking at fair and sensible solutions. Should three or four hundred fans pack into a parks pitch to watch football when they can’t even go to a pub or invite a friend round for dinner? It doesn’t really sit right does it?

Football at the top has failed for me during these dark and depressing times, more interested in money, subscription fees and pleading poverty than it is in trying to get supporters back into grounds, and playing at a safer time to do so.

I understand the game is good for mental health, but the balance is totally wrong. Perhaps smaller competitions in hindsight would have been more sensible, then trying to cram in full seasons in two less months than usual.

Those that suffer, like Notts County, like the fans, like the players who are being asked to do too much for too little reward, are the ones that mental health can really affect later down the line.

Whilst governments are maybe to blame for what goes on and when, it’s time football acted in support of its people too… If protection is being taken seriously by one, why can’t it be taken seriously by another?

An evaluation is seriously needed before the spread kicks further through the goals of more teams. Otherwise the season will end in ruins and as bad as the last… And after all is done, what is the point in doing something, if it cannot be done properly in the first place.

*Article provided by Daniel Peacock (Editor).

*Main image @danwestwell Notts County have a mural dedicated to the NHS.

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