The new normal is still taking a while to get used to, but I am being as positive as possible in the circumstances. Then again I am going to be one of the three hundred allowed into some of the upcoming Premier League games, so I am a little bit spoiled I admit.
I was going to explain how tough it’s going to be for me commentating in these unusual circumstances, but of course Covid-19 underlines the reality of what ‘a tough time’ actually means. Aside from the virus, as soon as you say 300, the mind goes back to the Battle of Thermopylae and the 299 Spartans headed by a scantily clad Gerard Butler. They also had it a little tougher than me as they were up against a couple of hundred thousand opponents, so I admit the difficultly of trying to get a bit of excitement in a fairly quiet stadium doesn’t really compare.
I think we will manage in the socially-distanced, deep-cleaned press boxes filled with temperature-checked journos and spotters looking for the first sign of a sniffle or a cough.
Everything else is quite changed in the old media world I used to inhabit. We have all discovered that some of the changes are not too bad now we are getting used to them. I like watching the news sometimes to find that the reporter hasn’t travelled 3000 miles to say something that he/she could have said just as well in their bedroom at a fraction of the cost to the company and to the environment, and instead has just made the effort to research the topic a bit more instead of ‘working’ the pictures behind them.
Now that just about everyone is much more comfortable in front of a camera on Zoom, and a myriad of other platforms, it does open up a bunch of possibilities.
On the Chelsea website, the 5th Stand App and on their own social media pages, just about every player has made their own content and it has been enlightening to see players from our club (and some others) in their natural habitat.
You do get to know people a bit better when they are doing things relaxed in front of their own camera from their own home or garden. They do however have to think carefully about exactly what they say and of course what everyone else can see behind them.
During lockdown I have been doing quite a bit on camera for BBC, the Premier League Channel and Sky amongst others, from my study/studio/basement lair, whatever I am calling it today.
So beforehand I think about what I am going to say, hoping to be intelligent, insightful, informative, enlightening and entertaining, only to find afterwards the vast majority only want to know one thing: ‘So what album covers have you got framed up on your wall behind you?’
Everyone can pick out David Bowie’s ‘Heroes’ but the other seven are less clear. I sometimes think people aren’t really listening to what I say!!
In reality, I am exactly the same as everyone else and it doesn’t matter if it is the BBC’s North American correspondent or our own Tammy Abraham, I am scanning the background, looking for books, music, posters, signals of what football team they support or indeed small children or brothers and sisters who are running about in the background. Extra points if a cat or a dog wanders by.
I have spotted a few Chelsea books and bits of Blues memorabilia subtly left in the background in a few shots from people in the public eye, even on The One Show on BBC!, and it is amazing how quickly you can change your opinion of someone when you see they are Chelsea fans like us.
I was going to mention a few I have spotted, but I will not be a party pooper yet, so if you have seen one on TV or online, let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will get it out here over the next couple of weeks, not that there will be much time to think about anything other than the games over the next few weeks as five sleeps from now we will be back into the season for real at last.
There will be a bit of Zoom-tastic action before and during the games on the 5th Stand App and I will be leaving a few things in my background that might be worth looking out for whenever I am on. Watch out for that and of course what all the others on our shows have in their backgrounds.
Then again we could go down the route of backdrops which although entertaining enough, they do not let you see inside people’s houses, which I am always a little disappointed by. I tried to use a backdrop of inside Stamford Bridge for a recent BBC show I did online, but they said it wasn’t appropriate and more importantly would make fans of other teams switch off.
It is weird all the technology that is being used and different versions needed for different companies. The Premier League wanted a Skype call, while another organisation suggested quite a bit more! They wanted me to use my home (studio-standard) ISDN radio line box for the voice recording using a lip microphone like the ones we have when we commentate at the games. While doing that, I had to set up a Zoom video call with the presenter and the commentator so we could see each other, with the Zoom sound muted and then a live stream of the game on another screen for me to watch the action itself.
Considering I also have a laptop open to check my stats, behind all that technology I looked not unlike Sulu at the helm of the Starship Enterprise (or for the older reader, Rick Wakeman behind his keyboard stacks.) I was secretly very pleased I got it all to work without the help of either of my children!
This is however the brave new world and although I will be getting to some games, I will be covering others from remote studios as well as my tech bunker in the basement for quite some time. Nothing will however get close to being at the matches, seeing the players, hearing the fans and getting the buzz. In the meantime, enjoy the build-up we will provide and be sure to watch Chelsea’s output on this website and the app. It should be entertaining.
The return will be a welcome cheer for us all, but maybe the return of the Premier League could also be the best thing to help beat the pandemic, in the UK in particular. With so much football just about to hit our screens, we might not be in total lockdown anymore, but we might as well be as we get spoiled with football after such a long drought. A lot of us will be staying in by choice for a change.