Chris Lakey: Football just isn’t worth dying for
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Monday could see a major decision on the next step for the Premier League season – Chris Lakey believes the governing body has one simple rule of thumb to abide by...
I was trying to come up with a film title to reflect the current state of football in this country.
It isn’t easy when a) you are not a film buff and b) the situation is so ridiculous that there are too many titles to choose from.
The Gods Must Be Crazy was my original thought when I heard Gordon Taylor, head of the players’ union the PFA, saying we’d consider playing games of less than 90 minutes.
And that got me on to Star Trek... “It’s football, Jim, but not as we know it.”
Perhaps it’s best to stop the Hollywood stuff while we’re behind ... it does get tedious, but you get my drift. This is unbelievable, far-fetched stuff we are dealing with here.
Coronavirus has sent the sport into such a tailspin that our minds have become affected.
But there is one indisputable fact: we should not start playing games of football again until resumption can be on exactly the same terms as when the game was last played. That is, with no fear of spreading illness, and with the same rules and laws.
If you play a game of 30- or 40-minute halves you are not playing a game of football. To suggest it can be done, even to mutter it under your breath, is the stuff of treason.
Anything other than the norm, means it is not safe. It is so simple it is frustrating that I feel the need to write it.
Games behind closed doors? The game of football has its roots as a spectator sport, an entertainment, and to play it without fans is to admit they don’t matter, even if it is safeguarding their health.
Who can prove to me without any doubt that playing games behind closed doors will be absolutely safe for those involved, from players to other necessary attendees (considered to be around 300 people)?
If that can be guaranteed, that the safety of everyone can be guaranteed, then perhaps behind the idea of behind closed doors games is just about acceptable, if only as a mechanism for getting the tangle of the current season out of the way. But the footballers who were on the end of unnecessary stick over their salaries are now being pushed forward into a coronavirus firing line. Guinea pigs? You bet they are.
If one thing has to change to accommodate a game of football, it means there is a safety concern. And with hundreds of people still losing their lives every day, there can be no safety risks, no gambling with health. That is surely the most easily understandable and logical thing I will write this year.
What I don’t dispute is that football should be planning its return... to normal. Not half normal, not almost normal. But completely normal.
Football has been under the cosh since March 13, possibly a little earlier, for considering itself out of the Covid-19 loop. It seems those who play the game are overpaid – true to some extent. That they are wrapped in cotton wool - true. That they are spoilt - true to some extent. That they are invincible to everything associated with the pandemic - what, like those who lit barbecues in packed parks and beaches or who still make supermarket shopping such a dangerous experience?
Football, of course, was an easy target. Most people understand the hierarchy of a football club and how the money comes in and how it is spent – every day football’s version of the FT Index is right in front of us in the form of league tables.
And that means that other businesses - for that is what football is - have been a little neglected when it comes to the finger pointing. The fact that football is seeking to return to normality as soon as possible is fair enough, in the right circumstances, but let’s not forget that many other businesses are raking it in, whilst that most staple of coronavirus rules - social distancing - is flouted. Anyone know of a supermarket where you have been two metres away from people, at all times? Nope. Yes, we have to eat, and no, we don’t actually have to watch football. But football, except for one or two isolated incidents, has stuck by the pandemic rulebook.
And season ticket holders who are paying for nothing at the moment will get a refund - when the Premier League can decide what happens next. You won’t see businesses who have hiked up the cost of certain goods handing our rebates.
Norwich City came under fire for furloughing staff. A few others clubs did it and then changed their minds; the bad publicity wasn’t worth it. Norwich have stuck to theirs, whilst ensuring players are still paid. They are a business, it is their choice. Some agree, some don’t. But many other businesses have done the same: furloughed some staff but kept on high earners. City will have their own business reasons for doing what they have done, and those who criticise it might want to consider the alternative. Off the top of my head, it might be selling assets to balance the books because they didn’t furlough. That’s self-defeating and, if they are relegated, won’t help them get back up. Make up your own mind on whether you’d prefer furloughing or the possibility of financial problems ahead. You can’t have your cake etc.
The famous quote by the great Liverpool manager Bill Shankly – “Some people think football is a matter of life and death. I don’t like that attitude. I can assure them it is much more serious than that” - has been dusted off a lot lately. He was wrong.
On Monday, the door could be open for football to return, in some form or other. We all, as fans, want to get back to watching games as soon as possible.
But none of us should be dying for it.