David Freezer: Light at end of the tunnel disappears again for City fans and the English football ‘family’
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
So it wasn’t a step towards normality after all - more of a step towards confusion, frustration and worry.
Just as so many in the Norwich City world thought they could see light at the end of the tunnel, as 1,000 season ticket holders returned to Carrow Road last Saturday, the government have slammed the brakes on.
Seeing City fans in yellow shirts strolling towards the stadium in the bright sunshine lifted the spirits. The relief of the celebrations of Przemek Placheta’s equaliser against Preston was positively reinvigorating.
Yet it was even just the warm welcome as the players started to warm up, the cries to the referee for a foul, the groans of disappointment as Placheta missed a glorious chance to level the scores earlier on and the cheer for Daniel Farke as he thanked the South Stand - the sounds of football, real football.
We shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that we are talking about sport, about entertainment. Economic woes, job losses, further austerity, higher taxes and strain on the health system all look to be ahead during a challenging time - and the arguments about Brexit are brewing in the background again as well.
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Those challenges of real life are what make sport, art and entertainment so crucial to our wellbeing, that release from the daily grind, of which sadly there looks to be plenty lying in wait.
Yet the decision for the government to just wrap up the progress made on crowds returning, when so many careful plans had been put in place by EFL clubs, made a mockery of ever allowing them to begin in the first place. Covid-19 hadn’t gone away, the plans were always being formulated with the knowledge that life would be striving for normality while living with the coronavirus.
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It’s relatively easy for Norwich City fans to be frustrated but not too worried about the situation. Their club will take a financial hit but is run sensibly and in a stable financial state. If a need to fill a financial black hole becomes urgent, the Canaries have players worth lots of money in the transfer market.
This is the existential moral crisis that the football community now finds itself in.
At the top of the game we’ve just seen Tottenham, with their billionaire owner and swanky new stadium which dominates one of the poorest boroughs in London, spend a reported £9million to bring Gareth Bale back on loan from Real Madrid - a player they sold for around £90million in 2014.
Spurs are reportedly paying £220,000 of the Wales star’s staggering £600,000 weekly wage.
Yet throughout the EFL and top levels of non-league there is panic about how it will be possible to survive this season financially without fans, unless the government is able to prop up the industry with tax payers’ money.
Burnley boss Sean Dyche put it bluntly this week when he pointed out that top businesses don’t bail out struggling competitors. Supermarket giants don’t prop up the corner shop, they buy it or happily let it wither. Big banks don’t keep small building societies afloat, they absorb their assets in cut-price takeovers.
As nice as the idea is of Premier League clubs and players helping to save clubs, staff and players lower down the pyramid, we don’t live in a world of sunshine and rainbows. Indeed, the horrid weather of the last few days has been much more befitting of the mood.
The big clubs are having to tighten their belts as well, as illustrated by Barcelona approaching Norwich about a loan deal for Max Aarons, after their president had spoken in July about bracing for a loss of expected income in the region of 200 million euros.
It’s worth pointing out as well that for the last available financial figures, for 2018-19, the Premier League provides solidarity payments worth £140million to EFL clubs on top of the parachute payments to the three clubs relegated from the top flight. That’s no small amount.
I fear that unless the government put more thought into how football navigates this crisis, it will only speed the likelihood of the Premier League expanding to two divisions of 16 teams - and potentially the Champions League become the main show in town.
Predicting what lies ahead is difficult at the moment though and seemingly will be until a Covid-19 vaccine is proven to be safe.
Just the week we saw Leyton Orient kicked out of the League Cup after a coronavirus outbreak led to their tie with Spurs being postponed at late notice. Grimsby have also seen their game postponed this weekend and Preston had to drop striker Jayden Stockley out of their squad to face City last Saturday after he received a call at lunchtime saying he needed to isolate after a positive test for a family friend.
So all we can do is hope that scientists can bring us good news in the months to come which will allow us all to wave a relieved goodbye to 2020 on one hand on New Year’s Eve, while flipping the bird in its direction with the other.
Although at the moment it looks like we’ll have to be home by 10pm, in groups of fewer than six people and we’re not allowed to hug. Typical, during the first season the Canaries don’t have a New Year’s game in five years...