Even on a Tuesday night, I find myself spoiled for choice as to which sport to watch on television. I could have watched the titanic goalless draw between Azerbaijan and Cyprus, the super league clash between Warrington and Leeds Rhinos or baseball. I made a token effort but after not very long, I gave up. Without crowds, I am struggling to see the point of it.
In the early stages of sport without crowds, I chose to watch with dubbed on crowd noises. If, I thought, the game was good enough, I could forget there was no one at the game. However, I’m well past that stage now. I’m watching less TV sport now than I did even before the advent of Sky.
I almost choked when I saw the EFL charging a tenner a head to watch their games streamed live, but the Premier League, the world leaders when it comes to greed, are now going to show many of their games at a mere £15 a pop. £15 to watch an emotionally empty game being played out for the Premier League, advertisers and multimillionaire players. But not for fans.
My Premier League allegiance is with Liverpool. I’m not a fan because I never go to their games, I’m not from Liverpool and have no familial connections with them. I enjoyed it when they finally got around to winning the Premier League after the break last season. I still like them, but my heart is not in it.
Premier League clubs managed to spend £1.2 billion this summer, despite the near certainty there would be no crowds at games this season. They are now involved in a project to redirect yet more power, influence and eventually money to themselves by bribing desperate lower league clubs, which would allow massive changes to the structure of football. And this has been deliberately planned to happen when many clubs are on their knees. Cynical? Moi?
I heard a phone-in on the radio yesterday where supporters were bemoaning the big boys for making it impossible for the smaller clubs to complete. They might have had a point had they not held up the minnows of Leicester City, owned by the Srivaddhanaprabha family, who are worth a trifling $6 billion, and Wigan Athletic, who were bankrolled by Dave Whelan, and personally spent around £7 million a season keeping an insolvent club solvent and built the DW stadium with his own money. The little guys, indeed. Different shirts, same shit. Even in my home town, the EFL clubs, Bristol City and Bristol Rovers, are owned and bankrolled by a Guernsey based billionaire and a Jordanian banker respectively. Football clubs aren’t really clubs anymore: they’re cash cows, hobbies or investments. Fans of the professional game are low in importance to the money men.
Am I alone in losing my enthusiasm for the people’s game, our national sport? My favourite moments in football were always at big games, surrounded by like-minded people with passion and commitment. The day out was as important, if not more important, than the game itself. But a game with no fans exists for no one.
If this pandemic ever ends, and the odds are we will have to live with it for many years to come, then will be all be allowed back to watch it and, perhaps more importantly, will we really want to?
Lower league football could be regionalised and the League Cup, so valuable to the smaller clubs, will no longer exist. The upper echelons will be forever unattainable and the Championship will sure become Premier League 2. The EFL 92 will be no more.
It is still in our hands to save the game we love. We don’t have to pay for Sky and BT and we don’t have to buy the club merchandise and other assorted tat. We can still have football on our terms if we want it. But maybe we don’t. Maybe we have come to accept a so called elite league, where thousands cross the country to go to a stadium on a similar basis to a family visit to Alton Towers? Maybe today’s fans are now customers?
What I do know is that football with empty stands is not for me. And no amount of hype and bullshit could persuade me otherwise.
Footnote: Dave Whelan is a lifelong Tory supporters and donor. He was a massive supporter of Margaret Thatcher, the prime minister who devastated the local area he professed to love. He loved it so much he later emigrated to Barbados. When Thatcher died in 2013, he demanded that all clubs hold a minute’s silence at the following weekend’s games. The FA, to its eternal credit, declined his request. So many of us were still celebrating by that weekend, I doubt it would have been particularly silent.