We’re not going back anytime soon – Gove’s bombshell rocks the Imps

(Courtesy Graham Burrell)

The new normal. Oh, how I hoped that was an expression we would only have to endure through the utter guff that has been 2020.

I recall walking out of the Burton game clearly. I’d been helping host the pupils from the Priory Academies for the afternoon and had watched from the South Park end of the ground. It was a tough angle to watch a game and I imagined that I’d be grateful to get back to my seat in the Coop Upper for the clash with Coventry on March 21st. Obviously, that never happened. The last goal I saw from my seat was Liam Bridcutt’s equaliser against MK Dons, something which seems a lifetime ago now.

Hope had been raised of a return at some point this year, with October 1st seemingly the point at which fans could go back into grounds. A round of tests this last weekend suggested that it was firmly in the government’s plans, but that is no longer the case. Michael Gove has now stated that will not happen, with plans on pause.

“It was the case that we were looking at a staged programme of more people returning,” Gove told BBC News. “It wasn’t the case that we’d have stadiums thronged with fans. We’re looking for the moment at how we can pause that programme. What we do want to do is ensure that, as and when circumstances allow, we get more people back because the virus is less likely to spread outdoors than indoors.

“But, again, it’s in the nature of major sporting events that there’s a lot of mingling. People look back at the beginning of the pandemic and look at some of the major sporting events asking the question of why they were allowed to go ahead. One of the things we must do now, whatever the wisdom of the decisions made then, is to look at sporting events now with caution.

“We also recognise sport is a vital part of this nation and we’re looking at everything we can do to support our athletes and clubs through what will be a challenging time.”

What will be a ‘challenging time’ is an understatement. It is only by the goodwill of supporters that some clubs have not gone to the wall already, this won’t just be challenging, for some it will be curtains. That’s a threat that has hung over clubs since the end of April and some will surely now be looking at methods by which to survive. Selling off their stars might not be easy, iFollow isn’t a replacement for match revenue, where do they go?

This is a killer blow for some clubs, for others it is a hurdle to overcome on a very rocky road through 2020 and (it seems) 2021. Right now, my gut feeling tells me we might be struggling to have full stadiums at all this season. Perhaps that is my pessimism coming into play, but I believe we’ll be watching iFollow all season long, desperately putting up with the substandard service it delivers. Still, if it is the only way I can watch Lincoln City, so be it I guess.

Like you, I miss going to the game. I miss my Corn Dolly breakfast with my Dad in Wragby, I miss a pre-match coke in some pub or other. I miss the collection of fan pundits I chat to outside the bar and I miss the group of fans I call friends who we sit with. I miss that feeling when a goal goes in; I get it at home, but making the dog jump up in a fear and having Fe ‘tut’ in the kitchen isn’t the way i want to celebrate – I want to see thousands of happy faces all around me. I want to hug my old man, I want to here Matt shouting ‘get in’ as he has done for every goal he scored or saved since we played football down the park aged 16. I want collective joy, but if it isn’t on the table, I’ll take the isolated version and hope the future improves.

Today’s news is bad news. We are in a slightly fortunate position of having a big game this week that is bringing in some much needed money. If Liverpool had anything about them, they’d roll over and have their belly tickled so we could have the next round tie too, against Arsenal or Leicester, and the second lot of £125,000 we need. They won’t, obviously, that’s not sport and I say in tongue in cheek, but wouldn’t it be nice to get through and maybe help secure our financial security for another couple of months?

We are in a decent position, compared to some. Michael explained to me how the budget had been cut in line with throttled income, and that hasn’t been reflected in the playing squad. Our iFollow support is better than many, it’s a slow revenue stream, but a revenue stream nonetheless. Fans are buying shirts and other merchandise, hoping to help in some small way, and we have a great owner (and board) with financial savvy and who is likely to have helped us through the summer without fanfare or furore. Many, many others are not so lucky and if a second lockdown does come along, as well as fans not being allowed into stadiums, an awful lot is going to change.

Today, in many respects, is a dark day for our game. However, life does go on and we must prepare for Liverpool, both as a team and as fans, and try to enjoy arguably the biggest cup tie Sincil Bank has ever hosted, even if we can’t be there in person. We owe it to Michael’s Young Guns.