One of the most misquoted statements about football came from Bill Shankly: –
‘Some people believe football is a matter of life and death, I am very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that.’
I’ve seen it trotted out a lot by fans who can’t wait for the season to start again. The notion that football is more important than anyone’s life is beyond ridiculous, yet this Saturday, the German league is to restart behind closed doors. This is despite protests from fan groups that football without the fans is nothing (correct) and legitimate concerns about the health of the players. For what it’s worth, my opinion is that this is all too much, too soon.
Shankly is often misquoted because his words were a poignant reflection of a career in the game that was coming to an end, as well as a meditation on time missed with his family as a result of chasing glory. It is not a rallying call for people to push players and their families into a situation where they can be exposed to the virus for nothing more than preserving a contract with Rupert Murdoch.
I’ve done a lot of soul-searching about football since play has been suspended. Of all the trivial things that can be missed, it is top of my list. Nothing makes me feel more privileged and guilty than missing trivial things when I’m safe working from home and others are putting themselves at risk every day to save the lives of others.
But guilt is just one emotion. To yearn and to grieve is to display another side of the human condition. Within reason, it is OK to do these things, as long as we don’t lose perspective on the bigger matters in hand.
Football shouldn’t return until the safety of everyone involved can be assured. Not just players but team officials, those who work behind the scenes and on match days, those that work in the media, as well as the heart and soul of the game – the fans.
But, that day will come. We have to believe that or what else is there?
One day we will all be able to walk towards the ground together, with our friends and families or on our own. We’ll get that buzz of seeing the floodlights or the stands from a distance. We’ll ask our friends for score predictions and team selections. We’ll smell frying food from burger vans and chippies on the way. We’ll hear music pumping through the PA as the players warm up.
We’ll take our seats in the stands and rise to our feet as the teams come out to start the match. We’ll scream at the referee and the opposition. We’ll dance and cheer and howl at the moon when our team scores.
But for now, we will have to sit at home and relive memories through YouTube clips and nostalgia shows. And that’s enough for now. It has to be.
This too shall pass.