This conversation between George Watts and Joel Butcher featured on Two’s Kompany, the Sunday 4pm STAR show, and was adapted by Joel. Tune in to hear more like it!
Back to Microsoft Teams calls. In the last 12 months, life has made tortoises of all of us. Permanently attached to our homes, being stowed away inside is, gradually, having to become more and more a part of my nature. Tuck your heads back inside, little tortoises, it isn’t time to come out just yet.
There is a key difference to life in lockdown this January, though. As the general public retreats once more, the superheroes, donning their colours, are to continue. “Delight the trapped little mortals,” plead those in power, “for such a distraction will keep them inside and entertained!”
Let’s get one thing straight: the current government probably won’t stop football. This Conservative government’s majority in the most recent election was partly built on a rise in votes from working class people—people who would have been expected to vote Labour. This shift was motivated, partly, by this group demanding their civil liberties. As Conservative decisions to lock the country down dealt massive economic blows to the whole country, people with manual labour jobs, reliant on in-person work were hit hard.
Football is one morsel that the Conservatives will continue to throw to those who voted for them. Cancelling it again would, undoubtedly, only increase their unpopularity among the working-class section of the populous, many of whom are already going without the weekly ritual of attending stadia around the country. The televised football is an escape, for people like me, from the banality of current life. The Conservative government likes it that way.
So, if the government won’t do anything about it, that leaves the responsibility on the Premier League and the EFL (both of which are made up of individual, privately-owned clubs), and the Football Association. As a private employer, their responsibility is not to the country, but to their employees, playing staff and otherwise. What their decision ought to be is something I am torn on.
With cases rising rapidly among club employees (112 positive tests were returned in the EFL yesterday), the safety of players, coaches, and their families must be taken into account. While it seems sensible to assume that players, all of whom are, presumably, in good physical health and are not in an at-risk age bracket, will be able to recover in the case that they catch the virus, this is certainly a risk. With so many people putting their health at risk at every match, chance would dictate that someone could really suffer. Allan Saint-Maximin, the 23-year-old Newcastle winger, has been sidelined by COVID for 6 weeks. The young Frenchman, along with captain Jamaal Lascelles, initially wanted the matter private, as he was struggling significantly with the virus, but was forced to declare his illness when rumours began circling that he had argued with his manager and left for France.
Putting players to one side, there are many other members of staff at clubs for whom youth and physical health are not required who are still travelling with players. Physios, backroom coaching staff, and managers are in dressing rooms up and down the country, putting them and their families at risk. West Bromwich Albion manager, Sam Allardyce, admitted that he was concerned for himself as a man in his 60s.
I can’t get out of my head the possibility that, one day soon, someone in the football world, whether it be a player, a coach, or a member of a player’s family, will die as a result of the Coronavirus. If that day comes, will football stop then? Surely, even if just out of respect for that person and their family, the sport would be unable to continue. Surely, all talk of the ‘public mental health’ would then seem silly—when a husband, wife, father, mother, son, daughter, brother, or sister’s life is taken. It will have been avoidable. This fact makes it simply illogical to continue at the moment.
While the government cannot and should not act to save all life, as this is simply impossible, and would only lead to those in poverty being thrown deeper into the mire, private employers have a duty to their employees.
If football stops, the government must, then, seize their responsibility. Players in League 2 don’t all sit in mansions when they aren’t training, and some rely on their ability to make a living from football to support a family, having come from poverty. The government cannot let those clubs go bust. The tentacles of poverty that a player may have worked so hard to escape will return stronger.
After writing this, I will sit in front of the TV once more. I will turn to BBC 1, where Arsenal (my team) are preparing to play against Newcastle United in the FA Cup first round. Is that hypocritical of me? Probably, considering all I have said here. But I can’t help myself.