Say what you will about our monumentally mind-warping new reality but it certainty offers the opportunity to type sentences that might have appeared to be facetious attempts at satire a mere fortnight ago. Sentences like “Manchester United are working from home.” Or “West Ham’s Karren Brady has suggested there is an antidote to the deadly coronavirus pandemic.”
If the latter reference puzzles you, let’s see it in action in Karren’s critically misunderstood Sun column from last weekend (in which she decided, among other things, that the Premier League season should be declared null and void and Liverpool denied the title despite being 25 points clear at the top).
“The only antidote at present,” explains Baroness Brady of coronavirus, “is care in human contact and unrelenting pursuit of hygiene.” I heard that antidote meant something different than that? But as I’ve had to remind myself so many times over the past couple of weeks: you’re not an epidemiologist, Marina. Listen to the experts; in this case, the vice-chair of West Ham.
In many ways it feels unfair to single out any particular master or mistress of the footballing universe for mild sarcasm. From Brady’s bunch of arse to de-facto virus-modelling from Uefa, who seem to be speculating that Istanbul could well be fine in June, Big Sport is struggling to pivot to its new position of immense irrelevance.
Not that a form of lip service isn’t being paid. Arguably the most unintentionally comic pose is that of the sporting big cheese taking magisterial care to explain to you there are more important things than sport right now. Is that a fact? Like me, you probably had no idea there were, until a member of Her Majesty’s Sports Press enlightened you.
But of course the self-importance goes much higher. In this vein, it is absolutely no surprise to receive a lengthy statement from the Fifa president, Gianni Infantino, in which he informed the planet: “Cooperation, mutual respect and understanding must be the guiding principles for all decision-makers to have in mind at this crucial moment in time.” Something for the director-general of the World Health Organization to take on board, there. I’m sure it means so much more to Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, coming from one Swiss-headquartered chief executive to another.
Even well-meaning gestures seem like acts of absurdist theatre. On Tuesday, Sky Sports made a public announcement that pubs will not be charged for their Sky Sports accounts during this period of no sport. And, indeed, this period of no pubs.
Against this backdrop of wild malfunction and warp-speed recalibration, then, comes the Breaking! News! that Uefa will hold Euro 2020 in the year 2021, or at least it will on current estimates. The decision was reached in Uefa’s Tuesday conference call, a telephonic fixture trailed slightly more portentously than a second-tier Champions League tie. The announcement would have seemed unthinkable once upon a time (ie two weeks ago). But this week it was largely met with the sort of seismic shock you’d expect to greet the news that your club’s second-choice right-back was likely to be out this weekend with a thigh strain.
The Premier League will be next out of the traps, of course, with their “crunch talks” scheduled for Thursday. I note from football dispatches that England will be “worst hit” by the mounting fixture backlog and there is a “genuine fear” the season may not be able to be played out. Which does feel like it should place maybe three or four on the list of “genuine fears” currently doing the rounds.
In some ways the most fascinating reaction to the implication of the postponement is those who have retreated into the familiar comfort of simply assessing where the England team may be in terms of development one year after scheduled kick-off. If your way of dealing with existential stress is to say, look: it’s going to give Phil Foden a whole extra year to be brought on … then, you know, fine. Whatever gets you through it. But I would be failing in my duties as a human if I didn’t say: are you OK? Do you want me to get some shopping in for you?
We’re in the relatively early stages of a deadly pandemic and the leader of the free world is Donald Actual Trump, while our prime minister is Boris Actual Johnson. I feel like wondering if Dean Henderson will be pushing Jordan Pickford for the England goalkeeper spot is at best a slight swerve of the main point and at worst not quite the swings-and-roundabouts positive it’s being billed as. Though your footballing fundamentals are doubtless sound, even working through them out loud feels considerably less rational than even the Twitter user I saw react to the Euro 2020 postponement with the deathless analysis “fuck the person who ate the fucking bat”.
Then again, why cavil? There is a strong displacement activity feel to a lot of these high-level discussions and which of us can say we aren’t in need of a bit of that right now? If you, me, or anyone else can even momentarily distract themselves with the ins and outs of how Uefa may reach this or that decision that will almost certainly be overtaken by events infinitely bigger than it, then let’s have it. Social goods come in many forms and we’ll have plenty of time to be surprised by some of the more recherché ones in the months ahead.