In his weekly column, Chelsea fan Giles Smith appreciates the way footballers have been keeping their skills honed during lockdown but wonders if there is a place for coffee pods and sandwich making…
Such difficult times, and so hard to reckon with. It’s as though life has become one long international break, only with added dread and you can’t get eggs.Coincidentally, if this whole thing had never blown up and our days were continuing as normal, an international break would be exactly what we were facing this weekend. So, even if football were still running right now, it wouldn’t be running. I guess that’s a consolation of sorts, as we hunker down and brace ourselves for whatever may be coming.Blimey, though. I’ve spent my life moaning about them, but what I’d give for the good old-fashioned inconvenience of an international break right now. Like everything normal at the moment, it suddenly feels like a detail from a golden age. A rhythm-breaking, momentum-sapping disruption to the Premier League schedule so that Gareth Southgate can see how James Maddison gets on against Lithuania? Help yourself, Gareth. Honestly: fill your boots. We really didn’t know how lucky we were.Instead we find ourselves adjusting as best we can to fandom under lockdown, glimpsing the players in action where we can – which turns out to be quite a lot, in fact, on social media, responding to the Stay at Home Challenge, with its sub-groups, the Top Bin Challenge and the Bog Roll challenge.
Gratitude in particular in this area to Marcos Alonso, whose ability to pick out a water bottle in space on a dining table from distance merits scrutiny; and to Billy Gilmour who pleasingly took the form he had so excitingly produced in those consecutive games against Liverpool and Everton into one of the internet’s more hotly viral scenarios.Typical, of course, that Gilmour’s performance with the toilet roll should be, in its design and execution, mature beyond his years. Except, that is, for the moment at the very end, where, having landed hard on the floor, you will see him give a slightly guilty look just off to one side of the camera. It’s my favourite bit in the clip. At that point he looks exactly like his years.
As for Alonso, we know all about his lethal precision in a dead-ball situation, but it was good to see it confirmed in a dead toilet-roll situation. However, when John Terry’s daughter, Summer, was filmed sublimely dropping the Andrex into a life-size replica of the Champions League trophy, it effectively drew the curtain down on that particular phase of the competition. Game over. Nowhere for anyone to go.Still, while it lasted it had been good to see football’s historic relationship with lavatory paper receive an unexpected new lease of life in the 21st century. Football and toilet rolls have always stood shoulder-to-shoulder, ever since the first fan bunged one on as an improvised streamer, back in the black and white era. Yet that intimate relationship had arguably dwindled in more recent years. Here it was, though, entering a whole new phase. Poignant to witness.
Other online themes have been developing since then. James Milner’s exquisite Isolation IX selection has set standards for home-based punning that many over the coming days will try (and most likely fail) to match. This is definitely a hashtag to watch, but it does lack an active football-skills element, so it’s maybe not precisely what we need right now.Far more promisingly, I caught sight, just the other day, of Tottenham’s Harry Winks opening a whole new avenue for exploration: nonchalantly side-footing a tea bag into a mug from distance, quietly adding milk at the counter and then drinking it. Not bad, but if he could have done it with the milk as well, I might have been properly impressed. But that’s Tottenham, of course: so close to significant glory on so many occasions, one feels - and yet, in the end, not quite there.Even so, it looked like a gauntlet well and truly laid down, and I’m very hopeful it’s one that other players will feel obliged to respond to in the coming days, with tea bags of their own. My feeling, incidentally, (and I speak as someone with experience of tea-consumption at the very highest level) is that your posh, artisanal teabags (your bio-degradable Teapigs, your unbleached Clippers) aren’t really suited to the robustness of this challenge, which lends itself more to the solid, unshowy , traditionally constructed brands: your PGs, your Yorkshires, your Red Labels. But go ahead: prove me wrong.After that, presumably, we start looking at coffee pods and Nespresso machines. Tough to pull off, using your feet or head only, but it’s going to be so satisfying when someone manages it. Indeed, no doubt the longer the lockdown goes on, the greater the ingenuity in this area will become. Isolation is a pressure cooker, clearly. Creativity will flourish, the social media game will grow and evolve, and soon even flicking teabags into mugs is going to look as retrograde and route-one as Cardiff under Neil Warnock.Indeed, before the end of this (and let’s not forget that it will end), I fully expect to see somebody from a top-six club preparing an entire cheese sandwich, including some kind of pickle, from 35 yards out in the garden and off a short run-up. And in that case we might be able to feel that this whole dreadful period has not been entirely in vain.