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.

Scott Parker’s departure – the knees have jerked

SCOTT PARKER became an early season managerial casualty just a couple of days after AFC Bournemouth’s 9-0 (nine) humbling by Liverpool, a team that is arguably among the top three or four in Europe. Jürgen Klopp, seeing the distress on the face of the boyish Parker, extended an arm of consolation, perhaps realising that in the modern game, there’s little room for sentiment when your team is pulled apart so mercilessly. Bournemouth were sacrificial lambs after Liverpool’s stuttering start to the season and after facing Manchester City, Arsenal and Liverpool, probably three of the toughest games they will have in 2022-23, Parker was shown the door.

Parker was damagingly honest after the Anfield game, claiming he needed new players. “I feel sorry for the fans, I feel sorry for the players because we are just a bit underequipped at this level from where we’ve come from and what we have. It has been difficult,” he said.

The statement from Bournemouth’s Maxim Demin hinted that he might have upset one or two people at the club. “It is unconditional that we are aligned in our strategy to run the club sustainability. We must also show belief in and respect for one another.”

With 16 goals conceded in four games, Parker’s post-match response was a frank assessment, but contributed to his dismissal. Having took them back to the Premier, Parker wasn’t given the chance to consolidate in the Premier League. It is possible no other coach will be successful in that ambition this season. Club owners need an objective and a strategy, but the chasm between the Premier League and Championship is getting wider and the financial gulf really means that survival is the best most promoted teams can hope for. How different the narrative might have been if Bournemouth had come up against Wolves, Southampton and Leicester in their first three games.

There’s no denying that 9-0 is an earthquake of a result, but the manner of the defeat was shocking for Bournemouth fans, pointing the way for the next few months. But the club’s management have acted like the taxman, assuming the returns of an exceptional performance (i.e. promotion) will be the benchmark for the following year. This is not only a little presumptuous but also seems naïve given the club has been here before. Will Bournemouth get a better manager in their current position? Sean Dyche is already being mentioned in despatches and there will be a cluster of other names that will be no more progressive than persevering with Parker.

The first Football League team to be beaten 9-0 was Wolves in January 1891. John Stuart McMillan netted five times for Derby County in that game, a Glasgow-born Scot who later managed Gillingham. Wolves’ manager that day was Jack Addenbrooke and he didn’t get sacked afterwards!

Promoted clubs sometimes find they don’t have the patience to continue with their existing manager if the tea leaves look at little menacing early in the season, but Parker is the earliest promoted boss to depart in the past decade. He’s in good company, Daniel Farke, Slaven Bilic, Harry Redknapp, Nigel Adkins and Ian Holloway have all had the tap on the shoulder or come to the same conclusion as their employer after winning promotion. Surely a manager deserves the chance to take thing on and is four games into the 2022-23 season really enough time to conduct a good evaluation?

If Southampton had that same mindset, then Ralph Hasenhüttl would have been sacked after one of his 9-0 defeats. He’s experienced the humiliation at home (to Leicester) and away (Manchester United) but remains in charge at St. Mary’s. Likewise, when Liverpool thrashed Steve Coppell’s Crystal Palace 9-0 in December 1989, he was given time and Palace reached their first FA Cup final and a year later, finished third in the old first division.

Bournemouth won’t be the last club this season to sack their coach after a bad result, but you have to ask if they have prepared themselves well for their return to the Premier League. On the face of it, their squad looks no more than Championship level, so unless the team is reinforced, a relegation struggle is ahead of them. Whether Parker’s successor can change that outcome remains to be seen, but their decision may be one they come to regret.