Cancelling matches: Do we still not trust football and its fans?

THE SAD passing of Queen Elizabeth has sent Britain into a period of mourning and strange disbelief. For the vast majority of us, we have only known one monarch and whether you are a royalist or not, there is a strange feeling that life will never be quite the same again.

However, the postponement of football matches that followed the announcement of the Queen’s death is a matter of debate. Was it appropriate to cancel matches? And why were other sporting events allowed to continue? There can only be one logical reason why football was singled out – the authorities do not trust large crowds of supporters to show the required level of dignity.

There is every reason to suspect that some groups of fans may not be quite as sympathetic to the concept of royalty. Monarchy is, after all, an institution of the Imperial past, as recognised in so many countries who once had their own kings and queens. Football is still quite attached to all things royal, from the family itself to the military and the idea of uniforms and medals. But mostly, the royals and football have very little in common. Football was (is) the game of working people and although some figures may now claim to be “fans” of certain clubs, it is hard to believe that it is little more than an attempt to show a curious everyman quality to the public.

That aside, even non-royalists are presenting a respectable profile to the death of the Queen as much as they would to the demise of any human being. She was, after all, a mother, a wife and a daughter. It cannot be denied she epitomised dignity and decency, among other qualities.

Inevitably, there will be those that feel they have to protest and some fanbases have already made their feelings known about the national anthem, the royal structure and the behaviour of some of its princes and princesses. At this precise moment, protest clearly isn’t welcomed by the authorities and the security forces will act quickly to escort away those that feel they need to show non-conformity. It is hard to do that if the body of people showing contempt numbers several thousand.

Nobody wants to admit the reason football is being treated carefully is because the police, the clubs, the Football Association doesn’t want an embarrassing situation where a bank of fans refuses to play ball. It is their choice, of course, but it has to be remembered that the majority of the country is, and will be for a while, in mourning. But would a club’s fans really display their ambivalence at this time? The FA and the government is not willing to take the chance. It does seem contradictory that some events went ahead in tribute to the Queen while football was cancelled as a mark of respect.

This is disappointing, because we are not in the 1970s or 1980s, but over the past couple of years, there has been a worrying rise in hooliganism and crowd issues. It is fairly obvious that the trust that was built up over some years has been eroded and that the nation has regressed since the financial crisis of 2008. We’ve had a number of tests to our endurance, notably the aforementioned crisis, Brexit, the pandemic and now war in Europe. Nothing can be taken for granted and now, Britain has lost its longest serving monarch at a time when people are experiencing inflation, food and energy price hikes and political uncertainty. This is bound to have affected behavioural patterns.

One might consider that against this backdrop, the Queen remained a constant, but it’s a constant that has been questioned by so many people. We cannot expect the entire population to be at one with an institution that represents the past more than it does the future.

The country appears to have been taken back decades in the space of a few days. The sight of people queueing all night to see the Queen’s coffin, the endless pomp and circumstance and the hordes claiming they “knew her”, evoke old Pathé newsreels and the fog and drizzle of austerity London when the Queen came to the throne. There are certain similarities, which shows that for many, deference is only just below the surface.

As for football, it returns this week, but some games have been cancelled or shifted to ensure the emergency services (which have been so pared back it makes us all vulnerable every single day of the week), can deal with the crowds for the Queen’s funeral. It will continue to feel rather odd.

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