Robin Sainty: A necessary evil ... but I will still watch Norwich City on TV
- Credit: PA
It seems strange after all this time to be talking about live football again. Since the Premier League ground to a halt just before the weekend of March 14, we have seen a break of eight weeks, which will have extended to 11 by the time that the action restarts, assuming all goes to schedule.
That’s longer than the usual gap between the end of one season and the start of pre-season friendlies in another and yet we are being asked to accept that what is to come is a continuation of what was happening before the world changed.
Whilst I’m sure that most of us are going to find it impossible not to watch what will be passing as competitive football in June and July, the bigger question for many fans will be when they will be able or, perhaps more importantly, feel safe to return to Carrow Road.
A poll conducted by Football 365 relatively early in the lockdown suggested that 31pc of respondents would only return to a football ground in the event of an effective vaccine, while 51pc would require a zero or very low infection rate. That left 15pc who said they would go whatever and 3pc who had already decided that they will never return.
Of course, attitudes will change as we learn to live with the virus, but the fact is that it may take some time to fill grounds once they are deemed “safe” again and some elderly fans will have now seen their last live game at Carrow Road without even knowing that they had done so, something that I think is an absolute tragedy. At least there are some positive pieces of news going forward. On Monday evening the club set up on an online Q&A session for fan groups from all over the world at which each of the executive team of Ben Kensell, Stuart Webber and Zoe Ward gave an update on their particular areas of work before answering questions.
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We are lucky at Norwich to have such good supporter engagement with the club, something that hit home to me earlier in the week when I learnt from my opposite number at the Newcastle United Supporters Trust that his club are still unwilling to offer refunds for this season, even though it has been agreed that all remaining games will be behind closed doors.
It was uplifting to get an update on the huge amount of work that the COVID-19 Community Project that was set up by the club using donations from players, directors and staff has done in helping the local community during the pandemic, from players and staff making over 7,000 calls to elderly and vulnerable season ticket holders to check on their well-being, to packing and delivering thousands of food parcels to charities, food banks and vulnerable people.
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In addition, the Project has funded the production of vital PPE equipment and delivered signed shirts and packages of cakes to over 700 surgeries in Norfolk and Waveney. It’s an achievement to be proud of.
Monday also brought good news on the playing front, with Stuart Webber confirming that only Sam Byram remains on the injured list, and it will be interesting to see what sort of formation Daniel Farke decides to use for the remainder of the season, with few fans likely to disagree that the return to fitness of Timm Klose is a huge bonus.
How long everyone remains fit is another issue, with players being pushed into an intense period of games with access to post-game physiotherapy limited to 15 minutes due to the strict regulations imposed to limit the spread of the virus, although that will obviously be the case for all clubs.
And, of course, we will have the additional issue of players potentially having to self-isolate, adding to the normal problems facing the head coach. The late Brian Rix would have been proud to have written something quite as farcical.
It was also good to hear that none of City’s remaining home games is deemed “high risk” and will therefore all be played at Carrow Road, but one thing that did come through very strongly was the heavy penalties that the Premier League are threatening if fans congregate outside grounds during games.
Loss of home advantage, fines and points deductions are all options, so it’s vital that people take that on board and don’t do anything that would make Farke’s “little miracle” even harder to achieve.
Financially, too, the signs are good, with a loss that was originally projected to be in the range of £18m to £35m now expected to be between £12m and £15m, although the club’s decision to furlough those staff who were unable to do their jobs as a result of the pandemic rather than make redundancies split opinion within the fanbase, and will probably continue to do so.
However, with no super rich owners to underwrite a big loss, it increasingly looks like the right decision both for the club and the staff with a significant rebate to the TV companies still payable, albeit some of it delayed, despite football returning.
So am I excited about football coming back? Not really. It’s a necessary evil to keep clubs afloat by finishing the season in whatever way possible, but every time I hear the Premier League refer to the “integrity of the competition” as yet another rule or practice is changed I’m not sure whether to laugh or cry.
Will I watch City’s games though? Of course I will.