All a distant memory

The cover of the Liverpool-Atleti matchday programme.
The cover of the Liverpool-Atleti matchday programme. / SUR
  • With how things are developing, it seems football as we know it is still a long way from returning

Giving the matchday briefcase its annual replenish this week, I was reminded just what a state of limbo football and our lives have been in for the past year.

Sitting in the briefcase, in pristine condition, was the programme from Atlético Madrid's visit to Anfield for the Champions League clash.

This was the final game before the seriousness of a global situation really hit home. A day later Mikel Arteta felt unwell, the Arsenal medics tested their manager for coronavirus, he was positive, they immediately closed their training centre and the Premier League suspended all football matches.

The reality hit home when a Spanish football manager plying his trade in England was struck by the virus. That was Thursday 11 March; the Liverpool-Atlético game was the day before.

Nowhere in the programme was there a mention of the potential of the incoming pandemic. Jürgen Klopp's final words in his matchday address were "embrace the joy of the moment and do your best".

Little did we know that "embrace" would become a dirty word. In the press box, we were giving each other ample space, jokingly avoiding the customary handshake and coughing politely into our elbows. The pandemic was something happening elsewhere. It was like a hurricane hitting China, and we were predicting a storm.

I'm privileged to have commentated on several games since football resumed. It's an understatement to say it is a vastly different experience. Many games are covered "off-tube", sitting in a booth in front of a TV screen. This is the way we covered La Liga for years. The secret is out now!

When the situation requires commentating from the actual stadium, it is a clinical experience. Health questionnaires need to be completed digitally in the 24 hours before the game, a medic is waiting upon arrival at the ground, you must follow a strict pathway to your position and not move from your seat once you have found it.

My record so far is getting tested six times between leaving my car and starting the broadcast. On a Zoom call this week with fellow commentators we all agreed that we feel completely safe in the ultra-professional environment.

Football clubs are doing their best to ensure all protocols are followed and generally succeeding. The industry has continued despite the odd footballer thinking he's above it all by attending a party or jetting off for a break to Dubai or South America.

There's a big debate about whether players should control their celebrations. At the game I covered last weekend, there was an 11-man pile-on as one team made it 3-3 in the dying seconds. At the time it seems a natural reaction; on reflection, it should best be avoided.

A crowd of 50,000 plus with 3,000 travelling across Europe to mingle at a football match seems such a distant memory and maybe a distant dream of happening again.