I’ve been reading quotes from Arsenal supporters about the return of fans to the Emirates in last night’s UEFA Big Vase clash against not particularly Rapid Vienna. It was an “emotional experience”, it was “great to be back at our home” and so on. And what a night it must have been. Staggered arrivals, compulsory temperature checks, compulsory use of hand gel, social distancing, mask wearing and no singing. Actually, in Arsenal’s library of dreams the no singing bit must have been the easiest to bear for Arsenal fans. The rest, and more, must have been shit.
I have written before that football to me is much more than a game. It’s about the whole day, which means meeting with friends, the pub, eating a pie when you aren’t really hungry and watching the game with one eye open. Take away everything else and you have 90 minutes of football. That might be enough for your middle class Premier League tourist supporter, but it’s not enough for me.
I can see why people are pleased that at least some fans are allowed back in sports grounds. It might actually make football more meaningful which, I suggest, it hasn’t been in their absence. The only reason so called elite football has gone ahead during the COVID-19 pandemic is money, specifically the money sports get from broadcasters. I have watched a handful of games during the so called lockdown, which is to say the ones involving Liverpool, and virtually nothing else. And even those games weren’t what they should have been, what with the Kop being represented by an old recording of You’ll Never Walk Alone. Sky’s best efforts of hiding the empty stands can only work to a point.
The prospect of going to a professional game now is of no interest to me. A traditional supporter could surely not bear the sanitised atmosphere of COVID football. Maybe I am hopelessly out of touch or people like last night’s happy Gooners reflect how football has changed since the Premier League came along? Either way, it’s entirely possible that the football day out may become a thing of the past, not least because there might not be enough pubs left to visit before and after games. And, in any event, we know that by opening everything up for Christmas and with everyone mixing households for five days, we all know, don’t we, that in January we will be in the mother of all lockdowns.