Last week’s Premier League response to the Government’s retreat on the return of fans to stadiums is an ominous sign for the rest of the year. Hopes were high that maybe games could proceed with stadiums a quarter full, but the recent change in the trajectory of coronavirus infections has poured cold water on this recent optimism.
The Premier League has quoted a figure of £100 million per month losses across football but the loss for fans is immeasurable (via Telegraph). Now starved of live football for six months, season ticket holders are facing up to the reality that this exile is now likely to extend into 2021. In the relative scheme of things that might seem a small price to pay but make no mistake, fans are hurting and are desperate to return.
Thinking back to my own last moments at a live game and the memories are sweet. Scott McTominay latches onto a hapless Ederson clearance and from my vantage point I can see immediately that his arching long range drive is going straight in. Cue pandemonium as fans unleash an emotive celebration pent up from seven years of neighbourly frustration. You just can’t bottle that electricity and the longer fans languish on the sofa, mobile phone in hand, the more diluted the sport is becoming.
The exile is not just about missing football. It is about missing the whole experience, religious to many, we celebrate and suffer together with our comrades in arms. Strong bonds and friendships forged over years many of which have been reduced to mere exchanges on LED. It is not the same and dare I say it, even the thought of devouring a United pie seems appealing at the moment, following this unwanted period of extended absence.
The virus is changing society permanently and will do so in ways at the moment that we do not even know. The implications likewise for football are profound. When it is safe to do so, fans will return, make no mistake about that. But what will we return to and what will the new normal look like in future?
There is no question that the first game back at a full Old Trafford is going to be a super-charged emotional experience that no-one will forget. There will be a special buzz in the concourses, songs will be sung just that little bit louder and the first home goal will be met with a celebration that will rock the stadium and soul alike. Beyond that and looking forward positively, perhaps this abstinence will blow away some of the fan complacency that has infected Premier League football. Maybe things won’t be taken for granted as much and the atmosphere at games might benefit as a result.
The short to medium term however does not look good. Even when fans do return there will likely be restrictions on away travel. The warning from the Premier League about finances and the likelihood that the situation will continue into 2021, brings the real prospect that some clubs will be fighting for their very survival. As I say, there will also be some permanent changes which at the moment are not clear. So football fans look to the future, along with wider society, with trepidation about what is yet to come. In the interim we will have to be content with being armchair fans for a little while longer.