Occasionally, an example of one of the increasingly rare social media moments of joy will light up your timeline. None of us have seen it for a while, and none of us have experienced it firsthand for some time either.
That day when a parent or relative takes a child to their first football match. Sure, the little one will have seen it many times, through the TV, iPad, phone.
But that moment when they walk up the stairs and see the stadium, THE ACTUAL STADIUM, and thousands of other supporters, is special. That little look back as they clutch their programme, the expression of awe, and pure happiness of the person accompanying them is something even the most cynical are touched by, even if they then choose to slam the parent for posting the video for likes.
For some children, and for those who start later, it can be a journey lasting years, even a lifetime. Should they be lucky enough to secure a season ticket then the whole experience becomes a cherished routine.
The old lady who sits in the row below, always sharing sweets at half-time, the guy you’ve been having a pre-match concourse beer with for five years and still don’t know whether he’s called Ray or Roy, the loudmouth three rows back who seems to have an innate hate for anyone to ever wear the shirt.
You’ll go through ups and downs together, and at the very best of times you’ll embrace, before quickly letting go and not mentioning it again… until the next time. That’s the thing about sport, and why those angrily asking how it’s fair theatres are set to welcome back guests, and not football, are being disingenuous.
I’ve hugged countless strangers at football, but the most physical emotion I’ve ever shown at the theatre is making a stressful escape during the first break of a hellish Cats performance.
To see fans returning around Europe and being sat a safe distance apart seems rather more sad than joyous, however, if it’s the first rung on the ladder then let it be climbed as soon as reasonably practical.
Football, as we have it now, isn’t the real thing. Players have different pressures, the game has somewhat changed. That’s been clear to all of us.
Sure, it’s been entertainment, and very welcome at that, yet it’s like the Pepsi Challenge when one cup is Pepsi and the other a diluted version of Rola-Cola.
Fan noise was eagerly piped in when it became clear that the majority weren’t enthused enough by the product as it now is. That in itself showed the importance of crowds to the game, and has made a huge difference.
Missing out isn’t restricted to those who go to matches, although it is they who are missing the most. The friendship, the walk to the ground, feeling pity for the programme sellers as they cuddle their latest editions to keep them safe from the rain drenching every other part of their being.
Away from the ground there’s the gathering at home, or at someone else’s. Going to Dad’s to ‘watch’ the match only for him to continually doze off then wake with each big moment and somehow be an expert on what he just missed.
The pub, accompanied by your mates, or your pub-mates, with self proclaimed experts of the global game always on hand. Waking up as an overseas fan, at daft o’clock, to go and watch your adored Premier League team, surrounded by those of the same inclination, or, and perhaps more excitingly, the enemy.
Supporter clubs, coach journeys, inventing new swear words to insult your companions on away trips. It’s a kinda love, innit.
For many it’s been taken away. That weekly outlet for frustration, that vehicle for emotion which may otherwise stay simmering, that perfect opportunity for family connection, that *thing*… whatever it may have been for you.
Watching football on the box is something many of us have spent a lifetime doing or slipped into as other commitments overtook. However, to take all of the layers away and try to present eleven men versus another eleven as being an equal product is absurd.
It is not the same.
Partly, that’s why the £15 pay-per-view isn’t ‘watching the same product on the same pitch’ and being able to pay half the price of a ticket. Much more insulting are the takes which tell match-going-fans that at least they won’t have to pay the associated costs of, erm, actually going to the game.
Trying to turn this money-grabbing step into a good news story and feigning outrage at what is perceived to be feigned outrage will not run with fans, many of whom already pay a more than fair amount for their TV package.
This should have been the moment to appreciate fans, to realise how important they are to the whole experience, not to grasp more money during a pandemic. Extra games being shown does not go without extra revenue, the advertisers aren’t being given their slots for free.
Allowing football fans to watch extra matches without additional cost inevitably raises the audience, same for the subsequent revenue. More so, in the time of Covid-19, it’s at least a slight encouragement to not all pile-in and share the cost.
Finally, if we want to go fully capitalist and make the most of assets at every opportunity… when will the royalties start rolling in from the piped-in fan noise?