Reasons to be Cheerful, Parts 1, 2 & 3

by | Nov 8, 2020

The world feels a slightly different place, this morning. It’s not perfect, it’s most definitely not perfect, but it’s a tiny glimmer of hope that perhaps we might not be headed straight for the darkest timeline after all. And whether by accident or by design, there have been tiny victories in and around football, over the last few days. Reasons to be cheerful, as Ian Dury used to put it.

Reasons to be cheerful, part one:

Last night came a victory in Marcus Rashford’s battle with the government over child food poverty.  Rashford’s campaign has resulted in government ministers last night announcing a £170m winter grant scheme aimed at helping low-income families. Rashford himself said, “As a collective we are so powerful and we all have a role to play in this. Today, I’m overwhelmed with pride that we have made such significant progress. We will not give up on our children. We will not give up on the future of this country.”

From the government’s point of view last night was a good one to bury quite the U-turn, but the single most important outcome of this story is that the money has now been pledged. We are talking here, after all, about child food poverty – three words that should make the blood of any reasonable person run cold. Had they pledged this money in the first place rather than being very publicly shamed into doing so, the government wouldn’t have found themselves in the position in which they did, so I have no sympathy for them. 

It should go without saying that Marcus Rashford is a credit to his club, and to his country. Truly, an exceptional young man. 

Reasons to be cheerful, part two:

The likely early ending of the Premier League’s pay-per-view experiment has likewise received considerable attention, albeit subsumed under the welter of US presidential election information. If anything, this is even more surprising than Marcus Rashford winning his argument against Boris Johnson. Rashford’s campaign spread out of the football bubble and into the broader media. He could count his support in millions.

But who gives a damn about Premier League supporters? There was no campaign from outside of football for them. And if the Premier League wanted to impose PPV, there was literally no mechanism in place that could stop them. Their house, their rules. Except things didn’t go quite as they’d expected. The voice from within the game turned out to be somewhat louder and better marshalled than they’d expected. The Football Supporters Association and other fans groups mobilised early in protest, and were noisier than perhaps anybody at the Premier League had been expecting.

And then they started to embarrass them. Supporters organised boycotts of their own clubs’ PPV matches, donating money to local food banks, instead. From a PR perspective, this was an incredible piece of forethought. On one level, the very existence of food banks is a national embarrassment, and vested interests do not like high profile stories about them in the media. And on another, fans donating the money from the clutching hands of the Premier League to food banks demonstrated both the former’s humanity and the latter’s avarice, whilst representing all fans with distinction.

So it was that on Guy Fawkes night, perhaps with the PR department hoping that the combined sound of fireworks and the presidential election would drown it out, the Premier League confirmed that the experiment is likely to end – for now, at least. Figures for the first nine PPV matches had suggested that an average of 40,000 viewers had paid and with some matches recording far smaller numbers, a fairly dismal take-up for what’s supposed to be a premium brand. This story arc was entirely predictable, to this point, but the likelihood of the Premier League folding was never 100% they only habe themselves to blame for any bad publicity they have received. Again, readers are reminded that this sort of thing never happened under Scudamore. (It did, but not on this grandly unnecessary scale.)

Reasons to be cheerful, part three:

Go on, admit it. The football is kind of fun at the moment. Top of the Premier League the exact time of writing are Southampton, who got there on Friday night for the first time since the 10th September 1988. They may not stay there, or even in the top four, but they’re there at the exact time of my writing. Fifty-four weeks ago or so, Southampton were getting beaten 9-0 at home by Leicester City. Small wonder their Twitter account was enjoying itself on Friday night.

They’re not they only club to have upset the applecart a little at the top of the Premier League, either. It looks as though Everton and Aston Villa’s stars might already be starting to fade, but they’ve also grossly exceeded expectations since the start of the season. Leeds United have been both entertaining and disruptive, despite their result yesterday.

Manchester United are like a mis-firing engine at the moment. On the pitch, the team are doing just about enough to keep Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in a job whilst remaining in the bottom half of the table and having lost in the Champions League on Wednesday, which feels a little like some sort of sporting torture. There should be a name for this phenomenon of, in a football sense, hanging on as part of a grim war of attrition. “Ashlification” has got a ring to it. Elsewhere in the Premier League, there’s an element of chaos in play. Leeds are in fifteenth place in the table, but they’re only five points off a place in Europe. 

Even this weekend’s FA Cup First Round Saturday contained an unusually number of surprise results. Marine, of the Northern Premier League, led the way with a 5-4 penalty shootout win against League Two’s Colchester United after they’d played out a 1-1 draw. There were also away wins for non-league clubs with a Football League pedigree. Stockport County won at Rochdale, Darlington won at Swindon Town and Dagenham & Redbridge beat Grimsby Town, whilst King’s Lynn Town beat Port Vale and Boreham Wood beat Southend United. See? Fun! (With the possible exception of Boreham Wood.)

Reasons to have Caveats

It should go without saying that all three of the above come with massive caveats. Everything does, at the moment. The Marcus Rashford story of child food poverty should continue to shame us all. That it exists, should shame us all. Surrendering over PPV will cost the Premier League buttons, but there are bigger fish to fry at the moment in terms of football’s macro-problems. A coup is still at hand, about which there remains a lot to say, as does the role of some of the game’s leading administrators in facilitating all of this. And all of this fun football is, of course, still being played in front of empty seats and terraces.

In a broader sense, yesterday’s news from Pennsylvania shouldn’t mask the potential for unrest that there is in the United States of America and, of course, the shadow of the pandemic looms over us, overshadowing literally everything we do. Some are trying to break out of this straitjacket through denial, and others are using it to exploit gaps in our safety and consensus. But the rest of us understand that this is not something that we can wish away, no matter how much we may choose to repress that unsettling thought.

Reasons to be Cheerful 1, 2, 3… 4

Considering where we are, though, it’s not surprising that we should cling onto the good news stories where we can find them. But they can be built upon, too. How many people – how many young people? – might be inspired to make a difference by Marcus Rashford? Supporters who boycotted their teams on PPV have both given money to a very important cause, and made an impressively unified statement about who we, as football supporters, are. And if there has to be football played behind closed doors, then at least let the games and the league tables be diverting.

And as for the Presidential election results, well, I’m aware of the shortcomings. I know the Senate probably shouldn’t be close, and that the election shouldn’t have been this tight. I know that the outgoing Buffoon in Chief could do considerable damage on his way out of the White House and that his replacement isn’t who many of us would have chosen for the job, but this wasn’t the hand that we were dealt and we really were in the last chance saloon with this election. I’m glad that my own half-American children have got a little bit of their country back, and that the world is a scintilla safer place, today. Moreover, it feels like we needed this glimmer of hope, in whatever form it takes. A cloud has lifted from over my head, and I know I’m not the only person feeling that way today.  

Huh. Four reasons rather than three. Even better.