WELL, here we go again: doors closed, masks on, baths of sanitiser, panic buying and a boost for the owners of online communication tools. But what of football below “elite” level? Just when they thought it was safe to go back in the water, the #19 shark has risen to the surface and is snapping away at our legs again.
Can non-league football survive this new one month lockdown? Another blow to their income streams, another knock to the confidence of punters that a football ground is a safe place to be. And this time, there can be no “bail-out” campaigns asking fans for donations.
I now fear for the future of non-league clubs, and the reason I am sceptical about the structure of the game is that this lockdown won’t be the last in my opinion – the government has admitted, one month may not be enough. Short, sharp “circuit breakers” (who comes up with this bullshit?) may be the norm from now on, at least until a vaccine becomes usable/marketable. By the time we are through this, will non-league football be able to stand up on its own two feet? I anticipate that if we shake the tree in a few months, we will have to see who is still around. Meanwhile, the powers that be should work out a plan to downsize the game outside the Football League, do away with overspending and living beyond means, and also rationalise structures and geographic catchment areas. Before it is too late.
Bread and circuses
While little clubs everywhere are probably wondering what the next few weeks will bring, the Premier League will continue. It has to, because the psychological effect of no football cannot be over-estimated – it’s a tonic for the troops, a break in the monotony of lockdown. We’ve become used to synthetic crowd noise (it’s like canned laughter, after all). Without football, the CV-19 crisis would seem like a march across a vast desert. While so many aspects of everyday life have been shattered and most of us have acclimatised to avoiding contact with crowds, football has lifted spirits and given us a glimpse of “normal” life. For most followers of the game, the matchday experience doesn’t exist, the largest slice of the audience watches their team on TV, PC or their phone. At this stage, governments wouldn’t dare to enforce another blanket ban on football – would they?
OK, Marcus Rashford has embarrassed the UK government and is on his way to becoming the patron saint of school kids, but the Premier League as a whole has shown how insensitive, and out of touch, it really is. Look at the transfer market and the amount of money spent by the Premier’s clubs, there hasn’t been much let off even though some are claiming they are under financial pressure. While clubs outside the top bracket have been counting beans, the Premier has behaved like it is business as usual. Furthermore, “big picture” espionage has demonstrated that even those clubs that claim to being “of the people” operate in a world of self-interest and blackmail. This is by no means only a trait of the Premier League, clubs across Europe who epitomise corporate football are planning similar projects, including a European Super League. Sometimes, it is hard not to believe that clubs and their owners are just completely stupid – how do they think that any divisive plans would be well received? Once again it shows that being wealthy and having size and scale doesn’t make you intelligent.