Football in the Time of Pandemics
I’m of an age where normally, especially on a weekday, I’m tucked up on the sofa with the television on at 10pm. So, BoJo’s new 10pm curfew won’t really make too much of a difference… up to a point. However, I also am a passionate supporter of a certain Premier League team (and I am sure I’m not walking alone with this one) – and they happen to be playing a rather big game at 8pm next week. So, the move isn’t popular with anyone who wants to watch the game at the local and get to see the end. So unpopular is the move, that betting sites like Betfair are giving odds of 7/1 on Boris being gone by the end of the year.
Like many, I like to watch my team’s games sitting at the pub, surrounded by like-minded people. The atmosphere that you get when the ball hits the net is quite unbeatable, even if it is accompanied by a half-pint of beer over the head (it’s good for the hair I hear). So, what to do now? Watching footie at the pub has certainly changed up til now, and looks set to get even weirder…
The Exciting Build Up…
Picture this. It’s the evening of your big game and you have a £50 bet on your team. You take a nice stroll to the pub (because you need to avoid public transport so no more being crowded on the tube with a bunch of inebriated football fans). You rock up to your local, all ready to take your seat and watch the game. But hang on, there’s a queue to get in! You wait in line patiently (obviously standing a good 2 metres apart) and have your football logo’d mask stuffed in your back pocket.
Each person in front of you is having a gun pointed at their head and has to give a name and number on a scrappy piece of paper – just in case. Some poor sod obviously walked a bit too fast and is a bit too hot and sweaty to get in, so has to stand aside for the others to go in. This goes on for some time and you look at your watch in frustration as the time to kick-off is getting ever closer (and God forbid you miss the obligatory 1 minute of kneeling at the start of the game).
Because you were smart, you booked a table. Any person that fails to book a table at the pub nowadays clearly needs to get their temperature taken, as they are obviously not well. Still, because common sense, as they say, is not so common, you see people getting turned away at the door, devastated that they will have to take the long walk of shame home to watch the match indoors, with a can of lager and a screaming kid for company. Part of you feels just a bit smug and superior at your smarts… but hey ho.
You are at the front of the queue slightly panicking that you are, in fact, not well, and that your temperature will let you down. The relief of being waved through is just about on par with finding the public convenience after a long drive.
The First Half… 0-0
In you go, with your mask securely on (covering the nose as well…) and you make your way to the table assigned to you. It’s been a long walk and a hefty queue… and you’re dying for a drink. You start to get make your way to the bar, but no! It’s table service only… and everyone wants a drink! There are three people serving and always that one person that has no clue what they want and keeps changing their mind. It’s time for kick-off…. And no drink yet.
Desperately you try to keep one eye on the game and one eye looking for a free server. There she is! She’s free and walking in your direction. At last! So, obviously, it’s a wise idea to order 2 drinks… or 3? Hmmm, well you are thirsty and the wait is long. She finally gets to you and asks what you want to drink.
After asking her what she has, she asks you to look over to the bar that’s barely in eyesight … so, you strain your eyes (away from the game) for 2 mins – and a (small and socially distanced) roar erupts. There’s been a goal in the two minutes you weren’t looking. Your head spins back round to the television and you just catch 5 players bundling on the floor (hoping none of those are contagious!).
Good news – your team is one-nil up and your bank balance looks healthier. Bad news, you missed the goal and still have no drink. You settle for the only one they have on draught and wait another 10 minutes for your four drinks to be delivered directly to your table. 25 mins in, you are finally ready to sit back and enjoy.
The thirst is just too much, and that first drink goes back far, far too quickly in fact, and 5 minutes before half time your bladder is about to burst, but there is no possible way you are going to risk it. So your eyes water as you hold on… for the 5 minutes… and the extra 5 minutes added on because of VAR.
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Half Time… 1-0
The whistle blows and you head over to the toilets, but so does everyone else. And, of course, it’s one in one out rule. You get halfway there, and someone is giving you an evil look… as you realise you left your mask on your table. You head back to get it, and by the time you get to the toilets, the queue is as long as the new list of rules you’re still trying to remember. Your bladder is exploding, and people are entering the toilets one by one.
Clearly, this is a long process and there’s always one that seems to be rewriting the Complete Works of Shakespeare, whilst sitting on the only throne available. Players are making their way back on to the pitch and you’re still two people away from your goal.
The whistle blows for the start of the second half and you’re making your way, finally, into the toilets and the relief is palpable. Considering you’ve been waiting for over 15 minutes, it seems almost criminal to rush, but rush it you must as the game is now in full swing. However, you CANNOT forget to wash your hands for a full 20 seconds afterwards (whilst singing Happy Birthday in your head twice over).
It stood to reason that there would be an equaliser in that space of time…. And you can see your winnings slip out of your uber clean and sanitised hands and circle the plughole along with your germs.
The Second Half… 1-1
The second half as been in progress for a good 7 minutes by the time you get back to your table and you have three pints left. Note to self…
- Not so many next time
- Drink slowly
- Walk to the loos 2 minutes before the end of the first half
The score is now one all and the second half is all action. You’re all good. Your bladder is empty and you have 3 full glasses and no one or nothing to distract your attention. This is, quite possibly, the best part of the evening. OK, a packet of Salt and Vinegar would go down nicely, but beggars can’t be choosers. And you can’t risk missing another goal for three mouthfuls of fried potatoes.
It’s an end to end match and both teams are pushing forward to get the winning goal. Then a player goes down… and he’s down for a good 5 minutes! For the love of all that is good, Get Up Man!!!! After a roll around, a face that resembles someone with a severe migraine and a second or two of hobbling, he’s back to sprinting up and down the pitch at full steam.
There are five minutes till the end of the match. Your team is pushing forward, and it’s attack, attack, attack. There’s a hit off the bar, a block and… was that a handball? The whistle is blown and they signal for VAR. This is in the dying minutes of full time and a penalty would surely be a winner.
Then you hear another whistle. You look at your watch and it’s 10pm. They are literally kicking you out of the pub. Right Now. No drinking up time, nothing. 1 and a half pints left on the table and a game on the edge. And you’re out on your ear.
You, along with the other socially distanced guests, follow the one-way path out the back of the pub and desperately try and peek through the window to see what’s happening, whilst ripping your mask off and sucking in the fresh air.
Did your team win? More importantly, did you win? But no, no view available, so you take out your mobile and look for the live score, scrolling and scrolling to refresh for updates, but nothing showing up. The clock in the corner is saying 90+6 and the score stubbornly doesn’t change. Is it slow on updating? Was no penalty awarded after all? Did they miss the penalty? Too many variables. You shove the phone back in your pocket and decide to wait for the result when it’s definite – at home.
The End of the Night… Who knows?
You put the key in the door and open it up to a darkened house. It’s now 10.20 and the result is in. You switch on your tablet and search for the result… BOOM! 2-1 – a win! You jump around, albeit a little late, to celebrate the winning goal and throw an imaginary pint in the air in joy. The TV goes on, and you wait for Match of the Day. Snuggling in the corner of the sofa, you make yourself comfortable and the highlights of the game come on!
Great first goal – quick one-two and right in the top left corner, nice! Second goal – what a horrible mess up! Goalie kicks it straight to the opposition and they kick it straight back, literally straight through his fingers (maybe too much sanitiser?). Ouch. Finally, the penalty. VAR says yes, handball, and the ref points to the spot. The penalty is taken perfectly and sweetly, sending the goalie flying in the opposite direction.
The perfect end to the match… a win for the team, a win for you, a loss for the bookie – and a perfect end to a not so perfect football experience.
Still, could be worse… could be another national lockdown…
Lessons Learned – How to Avoid Disaster
So, what do these experiences tell you about the future of football in the pubs? Here are the lessons to be learned.
- ALWAYS book ahead before for a table.
- Get there early and stick a fan in your pocket to cool you down.
- NEVER take your eye off the TV, even when ordering. Just get whatever is on draught.
- Order two… or three max. Never four!
- Take your time drinking.
- Don’t forget your mask on the way to the loos… and be ahead of the queue.
- Make sure you place your bet on a site that offers football live streaming, so if you do get kicked out before the final whistle, you can watch the rest on your way home.
- Forget the pub, bring in the cans, get some nibbles, invite NO MORE THAN 5 people over and live stream the match from home – with no queues and no temperature check. (But try not to throw beer around as you will need to clear it up).
Stay at home, protect your sanity, save pints