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Roker Ramble: The Final Countdown

“Football has always been crazy for lots of reasons and it’s about to get a whole lot crazier. Enjoy what you can, just don’t expect any of it to make sense” writes Roker Report’s John Crocker.

Athletic Club v Club Atletico de Madrid - La Liga
The substitutes synchronised standing formation had reached legendary status.
Photo by Juan Manuel Serrano Arce/Getty Images

Nonsense is nonsense only when we have not yet found that point of view from which it makes sense.

Gary Zukav

So it’s coming, maybe not as we know it, but all the debates, criticisms and arguments can now be put aside because from today we’re pretty much back in the groove. And whilst I for one think this shouldn’t have happened, due to the unjust treatment of teams outside the top level and because of the lengths that clubs have had to go to, to get the season restarted, it’s still going to be a welcome distraction from all the bad news going around at the moment.

And one thing that recent history has taught us is how to live with things that don’t always make sense. Inconsistencies, contradictions, vague, unclear instructions have become part of our daily routine, and it’s just as well, because the Premier League is going to fit right into our new world.

So, even though other leagues are up and running, the Premier League has come up with its own rules and guidelines for the restart. In the Bundesliga for instance, players and staff have to wear masks at all times except during play. For the Premier League no one has to wear a mask, even in the changing rooms or on the bench, apart from the fourth official, doctors or physios.

Stores Open In Barcelona
Catching the eye at the recent Fourth Officials Annual Conference in Barcelona.
Photo by Xavi Torrent/Getty Images

This is where I start to get confused; why wouldn’t you advocate players to wear a mask? If you have to wear one to get on a bus or train now, and the other leagues are all wearing them, why would we decide not to? Even if the medical pros and cons are inconclusive surely you’d come down on the side of caution? I can’t imagine the meeting where all these new precautionary details were discussed and decided, and when they come to masks, they just say ‘nah, let’s not bother’. It really doesn’t make sense.

However, other guidelines include ‘Players will be encouraged not to spit or clear their noses’. Which is great, but how will it be encouraged and by who? Is this one of the new responsibilities of the fourth official (in his mask) who reminds everyone in the tunnel before the game? And will it be enforced; will we see goals disallowed by VAR because someone sneezed in the penalty area as the ball was kicked, or the centre back was seen picking his nose off camera? And will these guidelines continue - in the future will someone fail their medical because they’re liable to a touch of hay fever?

I’m guessing that breaking wind is still permitted.

Despite the fact that players will be all over each other during play, they have to strictly maintain a two metre distance at all other times, so whilst some players can use the changing rooms, there won’t be room for all, so other areas of the ground will have to be used depending on availability. No doubt the away team will be allocated the toilets - it’ll be like being back at school.

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Ross Barkley was seen to be taking precautions as he boarded the Chelsea bus.
Photo by Cesar Gomez/Jam Media/Getty Images

And buses for travelling to away games won’t be big enough to keep people apart, so it’s recommended that clubs either use two specially fitted coaches or are being encouraged to fly for longer-haul trips. Indeed some clubs are chartering larger planes than normal to accommodate physical distancing.

It’s at this point that perhaps the curtailing of the lower league fixtures starts to make some sense, the thought of Blackpool, Morecambe and Carlisle all bickering over the only available 737 in the north-west would’ve been quite demeaning.

In fact, the Premier League say that they’ve been impressed by some of the imaginative solutions clubs have used to ensure they can get safely from A to B. Like transfiguration perhaps, or the use of a portkey (as in Harry Potter), borrowing the Tardis or hiring dragons. Clubs could watch re-runs of The Great Escape for tips on getting small groups of people across the country to the same destination by different means.

Briz paragliding club in Crimea, Russia
Harry Kane and Son Heung-Min land safely for their away tie at Brighton.
Photo by Sergei Malgavko\TASS via Getty Images

And this is where I can’t square the circle, where it just doesn’t make sense.

All the expense and effort to keep players apart, crowds banned from grounds, the control of movement inside the ground, the redesign of the technical area to keep substitutes and staff at a safe distance from each other, no ball boys / girls, social distancing in the shower and so on - but then for ninety minutes it all goes out of the window for anyone on the pitch?

Teams won’t be allowed to enter the pitch side-by-side yet minutes later they can get as close and sweaty to each other as it’s possible to get without copulating. It doesn’t make sense, I can’t justify or explain it in my head. But that’s how it is, it’s a crazy situation for these crazy times.

And it’ll give us something to talk about.