Like all Chelsea fans at this time, Giles Smith is on new ground with no matches at this stage of the season, but as he writes about that from a supporter’s point of view, a couple of memories from the 1990s surface…
Bewildering times, of course, with the supermarket shelves entirely cleared of breakfast cereals, even including the really boring ones, and with football abruptly swept off the schedule. More likely than not, though, the supermarket will get restocked with cereals tomorrow, including the boring ones. Whereas, in the case of the football, there is no real sense as yet of when it might resume or in what shape.Stuck ruefully at home, as so many of us now are, it’s hard to shake off the peculiar feeling that the season is over in March - a familiar enough sensation, I guess, for Tottenham fans, but something it’s going to take those of us accustomed to the more prolonged excitements of life in west London a little longer to acclimatise to.And whither now Liverpool’s first title in 30 years? What must those fans be going through? I can still remember the agony as we closed in on the championship in 2004/05 – our first in half a century. We had points in the bag and room to spare, yet even so complacency is a mug’s game (and certainly not the average football supporter’s game), and right until the cannons launched the ticker-tape and John Terry had his hands on the pot, I was haunted by visions of things which could yet deprive us of the longed-for prize: a plague of locusts, a swarm of killer bees.
Well, in Liverpool’s case, the stuff of barking mad paranoia is made real. We were pretty much agreed as long ago as Christmas that nothing was going to stop them. We had reckoned without a pandemic. (Odds last August on Liverpool being deprived of the title by a virus? I reckon they would make the 5000-1 on Leicester in 2015 look painfully narrow.)Maybe they’ll hand it to them. Maybe it will still get played out – in the summer, the autumn, next spring. The Premier League will possibly make their view clear later today. But it does seem to me that there are no half-measures here, no compromise position: you either complete the season, or you write it off altogether, and at this stage of a still developing crisis there is possibly no saying which of those outcomes is more practical or more likely.We’re in all-new territory. One looks to history to provide comforting precedents, but one comes up empty-handed. Although, now I come to think of it, the void with which we’re currently confronted does have at least a few thin parallels with the spring phase of the 1991/92 season under Ian Porterfield, when we only managed to win three of our last 15 league games and, between 14 March and the closing day in May, scored a paltry eight goals. I sat through a number of those games and, frankly, on some of those afternoons, I would argue that it was a pretty fine margin between that and no football at all.
At least the season got concluded though. Mind you, having appeared to be in contention for the European places at one stage, we ended up finishing 14th, so perhaps we wouldn’t have minded too much if it hadn’t.And again, ‘social distancing’ feels like a brand new concept that we’re quickly learning to get our heads around. But I suppose, on reflection, there were a few vague inklings of it at the Bridge that evening in May 1994, when a Chelsea side rather more focussed on the imminent FA Cup final against Manchester United, lost 2-1 to Coventry in front of a crowd of 8,923.Yes, no digit missing there: 8,923. For a Premier League game. As I recall, my friend Ben and I, in the East Lower, chose to spread out that night, putting an empty seat in between us for greater comfort.But that was then. As little as two months ago, if we’d been asked what Covid-19 was, most of us would have hazarded a guess that it was someone you might get in the group stages of the Europa League. Now here we are, all too familiar with it, and all too worried about what it might become, and asking questions that we never imagined we would – such as, ‘where did all the Rice Krispies go?’ and 'how can footballers ever work from home?' (As this website usefully reported, our players have been sent an exercise bike and an individually tailored nutrition plan. That’s how footballers can work from home.)How much we miss it already. Let’s face it, if ever we needed the distraction of football, it’s during a global health emergency. On the other hand, think how good it’s going to feel when this thing is over and it’s back.
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