Yesterday afternoon, my son and I were due to go along to the Etihad Stadium in Manchester to watch our beloved Clarets take on Manchester City. On Friday lunchtime, the match, along with all other football fixtures, was called off in response to the relentless spread of Covid-19.
Although it was a trip we had both been looking forward to, the postponement was in my opinion undoubtedly the correct decision given the available scientific evidence and the stance taken in other European countries.
A succession of weekends without football – or any sport for that matter – therefore lies ahead of us, which in the great scheme of things may seem a trivial consideration, but when the ordinary stuff is no longer there, when peoples’ everyday lives are disrupted, then panic is induced and the fabric of society begins to unravel.
Normally, we in Britain would now be witnessing the sporting year getting into full swing. I can think of no other country on Earth in which such a rich smorgasbord of elite sports is on offer to its population in such a concentrated period of time.
Normally, we would be anticipating the Grand National, the Boat Race, the London Marathon, the cricket season, the conclusion of the football season, snooker at the Crucible, Royal Ascot, Wimbledon and the Open Golf Championships; all these events are now in doubt and their loss will be keenly felt, with a corresponding detrimental impact on national morale.
For the football authorities, practical considerations now arise; what happens to the remainder of the season? How will teams lower down the league ladder cope without match-day income? What about the effect on peripheral suppliers; caterers, stewards or the company that prints the programmes and tickets?
There has been a range of conflicting opinions as to how – or whether – the season currently in progress should be concluded. Some have suggested that the season should be declared void, as if it never happened; others decree that the current league positions should be declared as final, with trophies, promotions and relegations distributed accordingly.
Surely, though, the season should and must, be completed, no matter how long the current hiatus lasts. The basic and inalienable premise upon which the league was constituted must be respected; namely that only after every team has played every other at home and away can the relative status of each club be determined. Any other outcome would be unjust and unacceptable.
This will, of course, lead to logistical and scheduling problems; perhaps the matches will have to be played out in empty stadia; in which case, would I and thousands of others, be entitled to a refund on my season ticket for the four matches which I have paid for, but which I will be prevented from attending? Plus, what is football – or any sport – without spectators being present to witness it?
Would a delay until the virus is deemed to have passed and spectators able to attend be so lasting as to render the remaining matches absurdly irrelevant and furthermore intrude upon the scheduled start of next season and the contract negotiations, transfer policies and training regimes that go with it?
All of these, and many other, questions will have to be addressed and resolved in the fullness of time and by people (hopefully) cleverer than me. But for the time being, I may I wish that all of you suffer nothing more harmful than a few weekends without football.
Take care of yourselves and each other. (Dave Thornley).