Sunderland AFC last took part in a game of association football on the 10th of March 2020 - an embarrassing 2-0 away defeat to lowly Bristol Rovers who, at the time of the game, were in the worst form of any team in League One and couldn’t buy a point, never mind a win.
That was 53 days ago.
We’ve been in lockdown in the UK now for forty days, and in that time we’ve all had to try to find other things to do to make the time pass. In a world where almost every thought I had was dominated by football and my beloved team, I’ve now had to retrain my brain to think about other things.
There’s no real news coming out of the club, nothing to chat about or debate, so we have to look around our own homes to keep ourselves amused. Gardening. DIY. Watching Netflix. Discovering a passion for food and cookery. Drinking alcohol. Enjoying the good weather that we’ve had.
I woke up this morning and it hit me like a tonne of bricks to the face: I’ve stopped thinking about Sunderland - in fact, at that moment I couldn’t remember the last time the club had entered my mind. I’ve stopped going on social media to track the latest gossip and conversations amongst supporters - I’ve found other things to do. And at that moment, I realised that it had stopped consuming me.
Nobody knows when football will resume in this country, but the longer we’re in full lockdown and the football season is postponed, it’s natural to assume that the close bond that once existed between ourselves and our football club will continue to fester; it’ll continue to lay dormant until there’s a reason to feel excited again.
And with that - and I don’t know if this is because I’ve stopped allowing football to consume me - I’ve seen my own opinion on the resumption of football slowly change, to the point where I’m now quite happy for the season to end and for the EFL to hit the reset button once it’s safe to do so. I just can’t see how football can simply pick up from where it left off.
There are 72 clubs in the EFL, but let’s just take Sunderland as an example. We’ve furloughed the majority of our staff, so the club has basically ceased to operate for the time being. On the playing side, our first team squad have not trained together in well over a month - longer or perhaps about as long as the break they’d be afforded at the end of a regular season.
So whilst they may well have been doing fitness work, going for runs or bike rides, they will not be anywhere near the level required fitness-wise to compete in games. They’ll need a pre-season, taking in a number of friendly games against lower-level opposition, to bring themselves back up to speed in order to be able to complete 90 minutes of competitive football.
Unscrewing my football head, there’s the issue around Coronavirus and the threat of a second wave of cases. Until a vaccine is found it’s irresponsible for football to resume, even if it is behind closed doors. You’re talking about having hundreds of people in one place, just to complete a game between two teams. And that’s just one game - there are another 70 clubs in the EFL who would also be expected to play around the same time.
I won’t go too far down that rabbit hole, but my point at its cusp is that I don’t see or hear any logical reasons for resuming football if all we’re going to do is play behind closed doors. Clubs won’t even feel the benefit of the increase in matchday revenue from supporters, so really all we’re talking about is circumventing social distancing rules and risking exposing thousands of people to a virus for no good reason. It cannot be allowed, and English football has to take the lead of the Belgian, French and Dutch authorities and cancel the current season, before vowing to resume once it’s completely safe to do so.
I miss the feeling that builds up to the day of a game and I miss being in the stadium, but ultimately this situation has taught me that football just isn’t as important as we think it is. There are bigger issues in the world - we’re all struggling with something - and I guess perhaps that once we come out the other side we should try and allow ourselves to become less distracted.
Football is a vehicle for the relief of stress; for channelling our passion and aggression. It helps us to feel part of something; it gives us a common bond.
But, I won’t become too distracted. Perhaps we need to remember that there are other things in our lives that are just as deserving of our time and passion as our football club are. How many of us have missed seeing friends, family, co-workers? How many of us have been forced to become more neighbourly, and to appreciate small gestures? How many of us feel like we need to make more of an effort with the people we are closest to?
Football, and normality in all life, will return soon enough. But let’s all see the current situation for what it is - ultimately, the resumption of a game of football really isn’t nowhere near the top of my list of priorities in my life right now.
Stay safe everyone.