I’ve been reading a bit of social media today, as it is the first day of my week off. It’s not all I’ve done; I had a great walk on the beach with my dog and I ate brunch in the sunshine with Fe.
They are traditional summer things to do, after all. Thinking about domestic football is not.
Look, I have no problem with summer football, a few beers in the sun watching England fail to deliver on their promise is a bi-yearly routine I’ve grown very fond of. That is a summer pursuit of sorts, but watching the debate about Huddersfield or Hull City coming down isn’t. I know it is unavoidable, but football on a Saturday in June is just not right, at all. We should be looking forward to the fixtures coming out, not sat in stasis not knowing what is going on, whilst armchair fans all over the country get excited about who might finish fourth in the Premier League. Top flight football is, in my opinion, bad enough when there is plenty to distract you from it, but when it is all we have it actually makes me angry.
How on earth can Aston Villa players all hug when they score, but I can’t hug my Dad on Father’s Day? How is it that football can go gloriously forward with no fans as if that was in some way acceptable? It isn’t. Football is about fans, nothing more and nothing less, and to play on in empty stadiums, for me, proves only how misguided things have become. The method by which our division was completed should have stood across the board, relegation, promotion, the lot. The Premier League has become so out-of-sync with the rest of football that it is being marketed as a return when it isn’t, it is a husk of a return fuelled only by money.
I liken it to when I saw Guns and Roses at Leeds Festival around 2002. Sure, it was Guns and Roses with Axl Rose at the front, but was it the same band that released Appetite for Destruction and Use Your Illusion? No, it wasn’t. It wasn’t the band that wrote the songs, that set stadiums alight with their raw energy and anger. It was a tribute, there for the masses to applaud but hollow inside. Like Premier League football without fans right now. Sure, we still have V.A.R issues and faltering technology, so I suppose the elements that make up this year’s Premier League are still there, but they’re not exactly the best bits, are they?
I know football is all about money, I get that. I suppose some of your are gleaning some joy from it, those with two teams or those to the extreme left and right of the Danny Cowley debate. I see Huddersfield are struggling and might come down, something many of you either relish with glee or desperately don’t want to happen. Personally, I don’t want to see Danny fail because him and Nicky do not deserve that after the way they helped transform our club, but football fans are a bitter bunch at times. Even my Dad took a little glee yesterday in reliving one of Huddersfield’s goals and explaining how Toff was done for it. I imagine, somewhere in Ben’s household, he gently weeps in a corner every time he’s reminded of his man-crush leaving. Still, that argument has no place in the June sunshine and frankly, I don’t want it to be the sole focus of my next few weeks, which it appears from my timeline it may be.
It would be easy to dismiss my fears as an outcome of the virus and little more, but the truth is this is merely a reflection of how big business now controls our game. We’ve known it has been coming for years and again, the extreme sides of the argument go from boycotting the EFL Trophy to welcoming Man Utd Under 21s with gusto, conveniently forgetting the Under 21 bit when talking about the game. One one hand we have fans who have been calling armageddon since loan deals became longer than a month, whilst others believe change and feeder teams are the only way forward. I think somewhere in the middle lies the future of football, but whether clubs like us can steer that course is another thing entirely. However, don’t be fooled into thinking the odd schedule of summer football is unique; money has taken the World Cup to Qatar, meaning in the summer of 2022 we’ll have the women’s Euros and in the winter the World Cup. That’s partly because of the virus (Euro 2020 will be played in 2021 and Euro 2021, the women’s competition, in 2022 as a result), but also partly because of money (Qatar were awarded the World Cup back in 2010). The current schedule is seemingly unavoidable, but there were other outcomes, other ways we could be moving forward towards normality of sorts. Instead, before I can buy a Full English in my local cafe, before I can have both my parents and my brother’s family over, Premier League football is back. Society really has its priorities skewed.
Being brutally honest, every inch of me is hating the way this season is dribbling to a conclusion. The ‘return’ of football is no return at all for me, it is a means to an end which sets a worrying precedent; it’s okay to forget the fans. The uncertainty over the National League is unacceptable too, elite sport is allowed back but some National league teams are still waiting because they’re not important enough. Then you have Stevenage, so far adrift in League Two that their only hope of survival was Macclesfield’s points deductions, considering legal action over a ‘sham’ relegation as if they were three points behind with a game in hand. What happens there, can the league carry on in September if they’re going through the courts to get their inevitable relegation overturned? To give Darragh MacAnthony his due, he has accepted the verdict of the EFL, begrudgingly but rightly so.
In the middle of it all is Lincoln City; uncertain as to whether the season restarts in September or not, unable to retain players such as Bozzy we would have kept, unsure as to what the future holds. Still, football is back isn’t it, so why would we matter? The eyes of the country’s armchair fans are pointed at their TV and kids are being taught football is a TV show because they can’t go to games at the moment. I know maybe I’m being a bit melodramatic, but I just feel that this grand return is helping to mask the problems down in the lower divisions. Everyone around me seems to be thrilled the Premier League and Championship are ‘back’, and I suppose for some it is a slice of normality they’ve craved, but for me it is nauseating.
Maybe this is a rant I’ll regret in a week or two, maybe it is an outcome of not having any Lincoln stuff to write about, but it isn’t the first time I’ve felt angry as a fan this month. Earlier in June, we saw ‘football lads’ going to defend statues in London, drinking beer at 9 am and chanting ‘England’ at the police before one urinated on a memorial to a police officer who died protecting the public from a terrorist. That man, whatever his name was, was labelled as ‘football fan’ before his name and his age. How dare the media portray us, football fans, as aligned to that lot down in London. Okay, some of those are from different firms and they believed they had some reason for heading to London, but to label one a ‘fan’ when he did wrong was utterly abysmal. That’s like labelling a burglar as a ‘football fan’ because he has a Liverpool tattoo. The two things shouldn’t be connected. Sadly, just as I feel football’s return is missold and causing me anger, the right-wing against left-wing battle is even worse. I try to stay out of politics, I am firmly against racism and believe the current movement is a cause for good, but you’d think with the pandemic people would be more accepting of each other. Instead, the world battles itself, it battles a pandemic and yet popular media is telling us the important battle is the one which leaves Liverpool five points from the title or sees Huddersfield looking to avoid a rather humbling trip to the Bank next season. Mind you, that’s a Liverpool without fans, of course, and a Huddersfield without vocal home support because we don’t matter, apparently we just all go to London to champion the extreme right and defend statues, although we’re not sure which ones. That’s the typical football fan, why should we be in stadiums, right?
As a lower league football fan, one who goes to games peacefully, who doesn’t harbour right-wing, racist thoughts and who just wants his club to survive, I’m finding life very tough right now. We’re being lumped together with right-wing fascists in the media, forgotten on the back pages because football has apparently ‘returned’ and yet we’re still here, fearing for the future of our club and only having soulless top-flight football or the battle between right and left playing out in cities to keep us going.
This isn’t summertime as far as I’m concerned. I should be sitting in the sunshine waiting for my phone to buzz and tell me we’ve signed a player, that is summer for me. I just hope somehow, in 12 months time, I’ll look back at this blog thankful for the fact we got through it all, somehow.