Chris Goreham: How does football add up the numbers then?
PUBLISHED: 13:41 25 May 2020 | UPDATED: 13:41 25 May 2020
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It’s amazing how quickly things can change. Remember the shock in the middle of March when Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta and the Chelsea winger Callum Hudson-Odoi both tested positive for Covid-19?
Until then the Premier League was planning to carry on regardless, citing the government advice of the time that sporting events in front of packed crowds were still perfectly fine.
The Cheltenham Festival was in full swing. Norwich City were supposed to be hosting Southampton on Saturday March 14 and the match, along with the rest of the weekend’s schedule, wasn’t officially called off until around 28 hours before it was due to kick-off.
It seemed that it took the startling revelation that this terrible virus was so strong it could even infect super human footballers, for the Premier League to take decisive action.
Last week players were finally allowed to return to training, but only after they, along with coaches and officials, had been tested. The first 748 tests provided six confirmed cases of coronavirus. This was reported by several media outlets as ‘a big boost’ for the Premier League’s plans to re-start behind closed doors. There was an article on the BBC News website a few days earlier with an alarming prediction that as many as one in 400 people in the UK may actually have had the virus at that point.
What we know about the Premier League is that about one in every 125 of the people scheduled to be taking part actually did have it at the start of last week.
The direction of travel seems to have been decided.
Far too many stakeholders appear convinced that top-flight football needs to be brought back at the earliest possible opportunity, even if it isn’t safe enough for supporters to attend.
The financial impact of not finishing the season has changed the landscape to such an extent that six positive tests are seen as a green light to build towards competitive action, whereas in March two confirmed Covid-19 cases were enough for football to be stopped. There we have the mathematics of football at work.
As with any business in this uncertain time, the Premier League is perfectly entitled to try to plot a course that will be the least damaging to its finances and reputation as well as the health of those involved. We all understand that, but I am not enjoying the assertion that football needs to come back for the ‘morale of the nation’. It’s often used as justification by the sort of people who, in the days before social distancing, would have given you a patronising ruffle of the hair to assert their authority.
There are many for whom watching football from empty stadiums on TV will be a reminder of what they could have won, as Jim Bowen used to say on Bullseye.
It may well see off the threat of clubs and the Premier League itself having to pay back broadcasting or sponsorship revenue that could have been refunded in the event of an unfinished season, but it won’t help the countless other businesses which benefit from being near a football ground.
If you’re a regular at Carrow Road, think of your routine, from the pre-match drinks, to the places you go to celebrate victory or drown your sorrows, the fish and chip shops which see queues of people in yellow and green scarves out of the door after a match and the shops which sell the bags of sweets that get passed around at games. Those are examples of the sorts of places that will miss out on six lots of 27,000 people flocking to Carrow Road this season.
There are also the unquantifiable costs that come from losing contact with the friends you meet at a match. There’s no doubt that feeling part of a community has mental health benefits. We must hope that the many sacrifices that are being made for the greater good by small businesses and supporters will ultimately help to bring football as we know and love it back. Only then can we start talking in terms of morale being genuinely boosted.
It isn’t just Premier League football that’s on hold at the moment.
With no means to pay for a mass testing programme a return to any sort of competitive action feels like a distant prospect for Norfolk’s non-league and grassroots teams.
Many of them still have overheads and bills to pay as well as pitches to maintain, but cannot expect to be able to welcome supporters and their wallets in for matches or even a drink in the clubhouse any time soon.
It’s difficult to see how contact sport will be able to resume at amateur level for the foreseeable future. Players with other professional lives to lead simply can’t be quarantined in the way that Premier League squads are set to be in order to protect them from the virus.
Then there’s the lack of action in school playgrounds. I can’t remember a single day of education that wasn’t punctuated by at least one prolonged argument about whether a shot at goal had gone in or hit the imaginary post which was about five metres wide by the time it had risen from the abandoned school bags that were meant to mark its presence.
If more children are allowed into school over the next couple of weeks they won’t be able to have a kickabout. It’s not clear where this leaves the particular children who were clever enough to lift themselves up the league table of popularity by bringing their own football in for playtime.
By this time of the year any bright shiny ball given as a Christmas present should have had most of the pattern booted off it and be on the verge of having some of its casing peel off.
Heading the ball became a real challenge when you knew there was a chance of being caught in the eye by a flap of leather that was working its way loose.