As has been well documented, football finally returns to our TV screens this weekend. In its new-look form — one of heightened health and safety measures and empty stadiums — the Bundesliga is ready to (hopefully) lead the way for football as it transitions into its uncertain future. Contrary to the belief of some, it is actually acceptable to be thrilled by the prospect of the return of live football to our lives, and fans should have no shame in expressing such enthusiasm.
The primary discussion point, and a fact that is hard to dispute, is that football will undoubtedly boost the nation’s morale. Anybody who says otherwise is either not a football fan or in denial about the extent of the impact the game has on so many in this country. Whichever camp they fall into, it may seem hard for football fans to imagine that the naysayers are not in the minority.
And yet, in a poll conducted by YouGov earlier this week, it was definitively concluded that — contrary to Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs Dominic Raab’s claims — the Premier League’s return would in fact not “lift the spirits of the nation,” with only 19% of those surveyed answering ‘resuming football will boost my morale.’
There are a number of problems with this poll. Aside from the hypocritical nature of the original statement from Raab as a face of governmental policy — more on that later — and the small sample size (only 2,098 people were surveyed), the true extent of the galvanising boost to the nation’s spirits is unquantifiable. Such a sweeping survey, attempting to assess the potential effect of football returning by asking just 0.003 of its population (that is of the 56 million people living in England alone), requires both a double take and some further inspection.
As Rory Smith argued in the wake of the poll results circulating, these numbers — despite their initial element of surprise — are still remarkable. He put it succinctly by simply asking his Twitter followers, “What else would come close to “lifting the morale” of a fifth of the country?” The question was rhetorical, of course. Football is the nation’s favourite pastime; it has the power to galvanise a large part of the population and has a lasting positive impact on those all over the world. Its importance can hardly be understated.
The caveat, which has become one of the stock phrases of the lockdown, is that ‘there are moreimportant things than football’. That is beyond question. It shouldn’t need to be said and yet, somehow, still does. But this article is written under the assumption that everybody accepts that a sport, no matter how popular, is entirely trivial when placed into the context of a historic, life-changing global pandemic. It is also written under the assumption that people appreciate just how important football is within that necessary context.
People are dying every day, and as we desperately hope for the discovery of a vaccine in the coming months, in what way can the return of football be a bad thing? The Bundesliga’s resumption is going to pave the way for the return of our own domestic leagues, which people too often forget provide jobs for hundreds and thousands of people up and down the country. While many rely on football for jobs, there are countless amounts of people who rely on teams. They often serve as the focal point of entire communities and establish a sense of connection, something for people to identify with no matter how big or small the establishment.
All things considered, football is a very important part of a lot of people’s lives and we are too quick to underestimate its power as a force for good. During this period of crisis, we have seen more so than ever how football often leads the way in society. It certainly has done in this country, with players and clubs consistently displaying more impressive leadership than those who this country has relied on for clear guidance.
Where there have been vague messages, chaotic displays of hypocrisy and shots taken at the football industry itself from the government throughout the past couple of months, — before a swift U-turn when it suited — the football world has largely showed its outstanding ability to lead the way and act as a beacon of hope.
In the simplest of ways, club players and staff have been calling elderly fans to check in on them and spread positivity. When Chelsea’s Mason Mount did so on Thursday, a particularly poignant moment occurred when Mount shared that senior Chelsea fan Maureen had “made his day” by joking about making her sister a virtual cup of tea. In response, the elderly Blues supporter said, “You’ve certainly made mine, sweetheart. You really have.
There is a fervent anticipation about the return of football, which will provide a genuine boost to a large portion of the country. But it is not simply a case of boosting the country’s morale. Whether some people like it or not, football is the number one point of discussion up and down the country — in pubs and social spaces in the pre-coronavirus world, but now limited to online conversation.
According to London-TV and a study of 1,000 football fans by OLBG, as many as two thirds are excited about the Bundesliga re-starting. Evidently, a lot of people are incredibly excited about watching football again, and this is for football set to be played behind closed doors, in another country.
For now, we accept that the German leagues are the guinea pigs; ahead of the rest of the continent’s schedule and ultimately a blueprint for other major leagues to follow. But, they have been on a timeline in advance of the rest of Europe with players back in training weeks ago and, crucially, chancellor Angela Merkel has long remained transparent and unequivocally supportive of the league’s safe return.
We wait in hope that Germany proves that football can, once again, be a force for good if restarted in the safest of environments, in which it undoubtedly will be. In a world where thousands of people are losing their lives every week and our daily routines have been fundamentally altered, it is acceptable to be enthusiastic about the return of a shared passion. Football is back, and we have every right to be excited about it.