I’ve just inscribed on my calendar, for a fortnight on Friday, 14 glorious characters – “Spurs (A) 8:15pm”. I don’t know why I’ve put “(A)”, because, whether it’s at White Hart Lane, Old Trafford or the Maracanã, I sadly will not be able to attend in person. I don’t even know why I’ve put it on my calendar at all, because it’s not as if I’m likely to double book myself by arranging to go to the theatre, the cinema or a wild party that night. But it felt so good just to be writing it – even if it was rather odd seeing a Premier League fixture written on a day when I’d already noted that England would have a Euro 2020 group match and the Queen’s and Halle tennis tournaments would be taking place. It’s coming back, it’s coming back, it’s coming, football’s coming back!!
The huge upsurge in interest in German football since the return of the Bundesliga’s shown how much football is being missed. La Liga and Serie A aren’t back yet, but, in attention to the Bundesliga, I’ve found Portuguese, Danish and Polish football on my TV, and I believe that Norwegian football’s coming soon! But it’s not like being able to watch our own teams, our own league. Bring it on! But let’s all behave, please. There’ve been some unwelcome scenes in Portugal: we don’t want to see that repeated anywhere else. And, whilst we get excited over the return of the Premier League, the Championship and the Cup, and then, hopefully, the Champions League and the Europa League, let’s not forget all the clubs lower down the pyramid and beyond, and the women’s teams. But, when Villa and Sheffield United walk out at Villa Park on June 17th, to kick off the restarted season, it’s going to be a big moment.
And I also want to say that I’m very proud of all the good work done by the Manchester United Foundation, and by individual players, especially Marcus Rashford, in these very difficult times, and that other clubs and players have done similar work. I’m sure that that will continue.
Football matches with no fans are very weird. We saw that when United played LASK Linz behind closed doors back in March. It’s sad for us that we can’t go to matches, or even meet our families and friends to watch them on TV together, and it’s sad for the players that they’ve got to play without crowds. Some players, especially those with household members in vulnerable groups, have expressed concerns about the restart, and hopefully no-one who doesn’t feel comfortable playing will be asked to do so. And the situation is a huge blow for all the cafes, pubs, souvenir stalls etc near the grounds, which depend on income from fans going to matches or stadium tours, and for the economy as a whole.
Then, putting club rivalries aside, there’s the strange situation which Liverpool are in. Surely, surely, Liverpool will clinch the title, maybe even within the first week of the restart. I’ve got concerns about all clubs being asked to play so many matches in such a short space of time, especially when the players aren’t going to be at peak physical fitness, but these are strange times. Liverpool are so close. The title surely can’t be far away. And they should have what United had 27 years ago. Is it really 27 years? Our first title for 26 years. It was incredible: it was one of the best feelings of my life. The Sunday when Villa slipped up against Oldham and the title was ours, and the Bank Holiday Monday night when we lifted the trophy. Liverpool have waited 30 years – Jordan Henderson should be lifting the trophy in front of a packed, delirious Anfield crowd, people should be celebrating into the night, and then there should be an open top bus tour. But none of that can happen. And I’m so sorry about that. Take that from a Manchester United season ticket holder!
But at least the Premier League and Championship season will, all being well, be finished. At least Liverpool should get their title, their reward for their superb season, and they will actually have that moment of winning it, not have it decided by some mathematical formula. In some countries – France, Belgium and indeed Scotland – the league seasons won’t be finished. Nor will they in League 1, League 2 and all the women’s leagues here. Places have been or will be decided one way or another – points per match, current standings, whatever works best – but it’s not the same as finishing it properly. In some of the lower leagues here – I’m talking non-league leagues (silly expression, isn’t it?!) – the season’s been declared null and void. OK, there are more important things than football, but that’s still sad – especially for those clubs set for promotion in the leagues where the season’s been scrapped completely. We’re going to finish. The title, the European places and the relegation places will be decided, fair and square. And we’re going to have football back!
We’re going to have football back! For an awful lot of us, life is pretty empty without sport. Sporting fixtures and events mark out the year. Weekends revolve around football fixtures. Supporting a football club is part of our identity, of who we are. Football is what people talk about – with their families, their friends, their colleagues, their schoolmates. And life’s pretty empty full stop at the moment. We can’t go to the theatre, the cinema, the pub, restaurants, cafes, or even round to see our families and friends. Holidays are being cancelled right, left and centre. You can’t go out anywhere without stressing about whether or not there’s going to be a toilet available! We’ve already lost 2020’s Wimbledon, the Grand National, the Boat Race and so much else. The Olympics have been postponed until next year. Euro 2020’s now Euro 2021.
It should have been such a glorious summer of sport. Most of that’s gone. The US Open tennis hasn’t officially been postponed yet, but it’s very hard to see it happening: Rafa said straight out yesterday that it can’t happen, as things are. But at least we’re going to have the Premier League, the Championship and the Cup back.
Football’s coming back!
Bring it on …