It’s Time To Stop The Football

by | Mar 10, 2020

If a tree falls in a forest and no-one is there to hear it, does it make a sound? It’s a question as old as the hills, but it’s worth asking it again, in view of the very strong likelihood that there will be no large crowds being permitted to assemble anywhere within the next week or two. As things stand, such is the apparent belief that football must never end, even though it makes perfect sense for it to do so, temporarily.

There has been much talk of matches being played behind closed doors, and tonight that began in the Champions League with the match between Valencia and Atalanta, but it seems likely that there will be considerable – and justified – unhappiness amongst players that they’re having to go out and get into close physical contact with other people at such a time. It makes you wonder what it would take to stop the football.

At present, it is estimated that the UK has around ten to fourteen days before the worst of the Coronavirus hits, and we don’t know how bad that will be, at present. We’re all looking for a soothsayer to tell us that everything is going to be okay, and that if it isn’t, then how bad it’s going to be. Hundreds are already infected. Many, many thousands more are going to be infected. We don’t know how many will die yet, but it’s likely to be hundreds or – more likely – thousands.

And there are still naysayers. There was the Prime Minister, trying to prove the power of bluster as an anti-disinfectant. I hope they’re right. I’d be delighted for them to be right. But I see absolutely no signs whatsover that they are going to be. Similarly, there are still those who believe that the football is too important to not just be… put on hold until this is over and done with. Those who argue that the underground should be closed as well, and that etc, etc, etc.

Playing games behind closed doors, even if we discount the risk to those who have to continue to perform for our entertainment for a moment, will achieve little more than producing a series of images encapsulating the madness into which we are currently sliding. The shouts of the players and managers echoing around these vast, deserted Enorm-o-Domes. The enfeebled reaction to any goals. Football stripped of conext, played as though in the abstract. A shadow of a football match.

But this has already started, though. La Liga matches will be played behind closed doors until at least the 22nd of March, covering the next two rounds of top-tier fixtures in the country, while the top two leagues in France will see games without fans until the 15th of April. Portugal’s top two tiers are also shut off to fans this weekend, while Manchester United’s Europa League last sixteen match against LASK on Thursday will also be played behind closed-doors. Serie A, of course, has already been suspended.

All of this is ultimately being done because of timetables. Professional football now runs to something approaching a just in time supply chain. Competing tournaments schedule fiendishly against each other, running almost back-to-back around the planet. This year’s European Championship finals are scheduled to start just twelve days after the Champions League final. Lucrative international friendlies fill the gap between these and the start of domestic friendlies. There is no “off season” for the football any more. But how likely is it that any of these events will actually take place on time?

An industry may well have grown up around it and consumed it, but football remains, for the vast majority of those who consume it, a leisure activity. One that we have a very close and very personal connection to, yes, but football is not necessary for the functioning of life on this planet. That some will likely attack me for saying that speaks volumes about how far we have already travelled down that particular road.

It won’t ruin Liverpool’s incredible league title win, and neither will it invalidate it. The logical contortions that some are going through in order to make this so are perfect tributes to tribalism. We need to put down these brickbats, and stare what’s coming for us in the face. Football grounds with tens of thousands of people in them are breeding grounds in this sort of situation, and controlling this virus has to be the biggest priority that we all face. Football can down arms for a few weeks, a couple of months, however long it takes.