Did you make it to the game last night? I did – or at least certainly in the sense of ‘making it to the game’ as we understand it in the pandemic era: visiting the EFL’s official Carabao streaming site, creating an account and using PayPal to buy a £10 ‘pass’ before settling in on the sofa.
Small thing, but couldn’t they at least pander to those of us who really miss going to the football right now and call it a ticket?
Anyway, I got to the ground – or, at least, to my laptop - at 7.30. By way of a pre-match build-up, adverts for energy meters, DIY gear and computer games were on heavy rotation. I guess it made a change from Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher. An energy meter actually looks like quite a good idea, and DIY and computer games are very popular.
And then, at last, the picture from the ground opened up. And what do you know? The next thing I knew I was looking at a static view of the stadium from pretty much my regular seat – the corner where the Matthew Harding meets the East Stand. It was almost like they knew somehow, and were taunting me – like that haunting moment on ‘Bullseye’: ‘Let’s have a look at what you would have won.’ The players had finished warming up and the sprinklers were quietly doing their thing and a profound longing washed over me.
And as if that wasn’t enough, I then heard this:
‘The sound you are about to hear is the emergency alarm being tested. This is only a test.’
Followed, of course, by this:
‘Bee-baw! Bee-baw! Bee-baw! Bip!’
I practically wept. How long is it since I knew the joy of hearing the emergency alarm being tested? Just over six months, actually. Six long months. Half a year without so much as a solitary ‘bee-baw’.
And when the PA guy followed up by spinning ‘London Calling’ to a set of empty stands...well, this wasn’t just taunting any more. This was cruelty, pure and simple.
It’s what we miss, isn’t it? Not so much the football, because we can still get that, up to a point. But all the other stuff around it, now in mothballs as far as we’re concerned.
Anyway, soon enough the teams came out and what would end up being our 10th consecutive victory in a third round League Cup tie got underway. The official coverage secured by your £10 was, one could argue, rudimentary. The budget certainly didn’t run to a presenter, nor to a studio team and the commentator (if he was name-checked, I apologise for missing it) worked alone with no sidekick.
A frill-free approach, then, and in all honesty, if I’d known in advance that it was going to be like that, I would probably have offered to pay £20, and possibly even more. It’s genuinely difficult to account in 2020 for the sheer relief and thorough-going pleasure of being able to watch a televised football match without having Steve McManaman on hand to explain everything.
Similarly, once we’d had a reprise of those energy meter ads, what went by the name of half-time entertainment was just a slide-show of match stats over a soundtrack, mysteriously, of what sounded like the on-pitch shouting from the game we had just seen. Again, by contrast with hearing ‘the thoughts of Michael Owen’, this felt like riches indeed, and with tricky times ahead economically, it’s a business model that clearly merits looking at.
As it was, £10 last night bought six goals, a hat-trick for Kai Havertz, an imperious hour of Thiago Silva and a few minutes of Ben Chilwell. A bargain, you would have to say, and a cheering evening ultimately, helping us all manage the important process of moving on from last weekend, about which far too many conclusions appear to have been drawn far too quickly.
Such is football these days, of course. But suffice it to say that in an ideal world, one would probably prefer to face a side as strong as Liverpool with 11 men on the pitch for at least, say, 75 minutes, and not have to sub off one of your club’s big signings in the interval to compensate for the dismissal of half your central defence. Alas, though, as we all know, this is not an ideal world, and last Sunday we suffered a little for that. But no lasting damage, clearly.
On we go, then, although, sadly, this week’s latest adjustments to the restrictions on social interaction seem to suggest that none of us is going to be hearing the emergency alarm being tested in person any time soon.
Having more or less adapted to the new reality, we now have to adapt to the new new reality, one of the effects of which will presumably be to all but eliminate the 8.15 kick-off. Next Monday night’s televised Premier League game between Liverpool and Arsenal has already been shifted to start at 8.00, which makes sense because otherwise, with the new protocol on 10.00pm pub closures, people would have been getting chucked out in the 86th-minute or so, which wouldn’t be ideal.
At the same time, on traditional form most Arsenal fans would presumably have emptied out of the pub at least 10 minutes before that in any case, so it wouldn’t have been much of an inconvenience from their point of view.
But such are the times. We all have to make our adjustments. What else can we do?