‘Project Restart’: No Right Answers… Yet

Sam Patterson

We will hopefully arrive at the right answer soon, one prioritising player’s safety; one which the collective can get behind and take seriously. When (and indeed if) that right answer arrives (hopefully soon), it’s sure to inaugurate a ‘new normal’. Here’s hoping that ‘new normal’ learns from this crisis; here’s hoping that ‘new normal’ prioritises collective, not just individual interests. Here’s hoping we listen to one another from now on and make football a better, more inclusive game as a result.

by Sam Patterson (@sam0007ster)

Football pales into insignificance at times such as this. Football is ​“the most important thing of the least important things”, as Klopp cogently put it in a website address to LFC fans posted a day after English football was suspended in March. Two months on, and the hiatus continues as society tackles a global pandemic – COVID-19.

Football’s petty controversies; that VAR decision; that hand-ball; that ‘lucky break’; that goal-line clearance; that wonderous save; that majestic goal; that new kid on the block; that scintillating performance; that cup upset; are, for now, insignificant.

None of it matters. Zilch. Zero.

What followed:

In mid-March, the FA postponed the top tiers of Association Football – the Premier League included – with the aim of resuming in early April (the 4th to be exact). That was, of course, provisional and, as it turned out, far-fetched.

Liverpool FC v Atletico Madrid - UEFA Champions League Round of 16: Second Leg

Predictably, a number of cynically-natured assertions by loud-mouth club chiefs on how and when we are going to go restart the 19/20 season immediately followed. There was even talk of annulling the season altogether which, just days after the suspension, seemed (and was) odious, crass and deeply irresponsible.

Karen Brady’s early comments:

Karen Brady, West Ham Utd’s vice-chairman, was just one. She made it vociferously clear that, in her opinion, the league season should be scrapped altogether vis-à-vis declared ‘null and void’. Her column (in which she laid out her arguments) adorned the pages of the S*n newspaper – where else? – on Saturday morning (two days after the suspension on the 14th March). She was subsequently headline news on Sky Sports, the BBC… etc.

What was, I pondered, her rationale? To create animosity amongst fans? I’m pretty sure it wasn’t because of its benighted tone. But it did. Particularly for those of a Leeds Utd, West Brom Albion and Liverpool persuasion (for obvious reasons). But also for Sheffield Utd fans, who were (and still are) two points shy of a Champions League spot with one game in hand… just think of the lawsuits.

She probably wasn’t all that aware of how ‘null and void’ would effect local food banks up and down the country. These humanitarian groups rely – almost entirely – on the revenue they pocket on matchdays throughout a season. (Thankfully, Premier League players have since leant a much-publicised helping hand).

But also think of the fans who travelled thousands of miles this season to see their team for the very first (and maybe only) time, based on the assumption that that game was competitive and that its result and ramifications would be recorded and valid.

And then there’s the complications with TV stations, sponsorship rights, player contact obligations… and the list goes on and on.

Karen Brady,David Sullivan,David Gold

Where We Stand Today:

Those were my immediate thoughts then, and the basic bones of my sentiments remain the same today. Brady, the vice-chairman of West Ham United, has splurged millions on a team which is in the midst of a relegation battle; the Hammers sit sixteenth in the league and are only outside the drop zone by virtue of goal difference. As is well-known, the owner’s relationship with the club’s fans is far from jovial.

Brady was aiding her own self-interests, synthesising the kind of ignorance and unbonded individualism which plagues our game today. (Which is another article in itself).

By no means am I launching an attack on West Ham but calling for logic to trump cynicism on what is an immensely complex and multifaceted problem. Solutions – as instigated by the ‘Project Restart’ programme – should be the cumulative result of a collective togetherness which favours the principle of mutuality (something Brady seems to lack) over self-serving egotism.

We all are human:

Yes, her position then was cynical. Nevertheless – and this is just a small diversion – understandable. We are all human. We all want things. To want things is the very essence of what it means to be human.

We Liverpool fans crave something so badly – and yes I’m talking about the title here – and that’s admittedly in our own self-interest. We’ve waited so long. We deserve it. Our team deserves it. The Reds have been absolutely boss – 25-points-clear boss.

But I’ve come round to the reality, slowly but surely, that nothing will ever be the same again. Liverpool’s 2020 title – asterisk or no asterisk – will be forever marked by a humanitarian crisis.

Perhaps it (the title) will be won behind closed doors? The success of the Bundesliga’s return this weekend will go a long way to determining whether or not that will happen. Indeed, for a similar solution to be realised in England, there also needs to be a consensus among clubs, owners, managers and players. As yet, there isn’t.

As time has passed and uncertainty has grown, the picture has become hazier. By no means am I for ‘null and void’ – absolutely not. But it’s time for fans (as well as club chiefs) to put their club biases aside and a resolution may take longer, a lot longer, than was previously suggested.

As the news that a third Brighton player was showing signs of Coronavirus last week suggests, if people’s safety is put at risk by restarting the season in the summer, then what’s the point?

Unprecedented times:

The inference is this: we live in unprecedented times and the only way we can move forward is via cooperation, consensus and careful consideration. A multitude of intelligible solutions have been built-up over the last weeks and months – as touted in the media – but subsequently rebuffed and, thereafter, disregarded. This highlights we are not rushing into anything… which is a good thing.

But at its core, it also highlights nothing is certain. No one knows for sure if football will return in its previous form (with fans in stadiums for example) next season or indeed the season after. It sounds bizarre. But it’s the truth. Plain and simple.

So there are no right answers… yet. The reason I bought up Brady’s comments was to illustrate how my sentiments towards her at the time were perhaps paradoxical. I couldn’t bear the thought of ‘null and void’ – and I still can’t – on the basis of my own self-interests. But I realise that now.

Hopefully, we arrive at the right answer soon. It’s sure to inaugurate a ‘new normal’ (whatever that means), and here’s hoping it’s a ‘new normal’ we can all get behind and take seriously. Here’s hoping it rectifies and prioritises collective, not individual concerns and interests. See it as a way of making some good out a tragic situation.

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