“Can all fans move into the stand to stop blockages in the turnstiles? The kick-off will not be delayed.”
It seems unthinkable that in this week of all weeks a football match could be too busy for matchday staff to deal with.
But here in Weymouth at the Bob Lucas Stadium, fans have not been cowed by the global pandemic that has laid waste to almost all European football.
This is the most nervous I’ve been going to a game that I am in no way personally invested in. Should I be here? Am I the one being irresponsible by attending? Or is it the National League? Or the government?
I shouldn’t be here anyway. The original plan had been to go to Yeovil v Barnet – that was until 11am, when the game was postponed after four members of Barnet’s staff went into self-isolation.
So Weymouth it was, ensuring the trip wasn’t totally wasted, and a National League South match between the Terras and Slough Town.
Both teams started the day on 60 points in third and fourth respectively, and there was a palpable sense in the home end that this was a huge game, global events aside.
The National League (which governs the fifth and sixth tiers of English football) made the decision on Friday afternoon that their leagues were to continue. It went against the Premier League and EFL’s decision to suspend their leagues, but to put some more context on it, most games in the seventh tier were also called off.
- How well do you remember the 2021 European Championship?
- What does it mean to be invincible and why is being vincible so undermining?
To truly hammer home this point, even my match in an amateur Sunday league in London was cancelled due to self-isolation.
The question persists as I wriggle the turnstile – should we really be here? The doubts get louder when you start queuing for a pint in the stuffy main stand bar, suddenly aware of the close proximity you share with a few dozen people. Still, being able to take the beer out to sit in the stands for the match is an unexpected but welcome novelty at any level of English football.
The lady selling the half-time raffle tickets say Weymouth average around 1,200 fans here on a busy day, and she’s not sure if it’ll be busier than usual or not.
Later, it is announced the attendance today is 1,578 – a bumper crowd of fans seemingly completely unfazed by ‘global events’. Are we stupid to come? Are we the bolshie types who turned up because it’s not against the law to attend (yet)? Is it any worse than, say, getting a couple of tubes on the London Underground, or sharing an open plan office with hundreds of people?
As it happens, it’s business as usual as far as any matchgoer is concerned. The pints flow. The players play as they’ve always done – why should they be acting any different? The fans keep chanting. The assistant refs get pelters from those standing nearby.
Aside from the odd bit of hand sanitiser, there’s instructions in the toilets to reassure fans that Weymouth are following all advice to ensure they are prepared for coronavirus spread.
It is a sign that is unfortunately comical thanks to a slight typo stating the ‘safety team will be very vigilante for anyone displaying the symptoms of Covid-19’.
Weymouth win 2-0, though largely thanks to one event that does fit into the narrative of everything seeming slightly obscure right now. On 56 minutes, Slough were awarded a penalty.
Immediately, the away side’s goalkeeper Jack Turner hurtles up the pitch to take it. There are no questions asked, as if this is the most normal thing. Home and away fans alike lean forward to marvel at this unusual event. Turner crashes the spot-kick off the bar, and the game continues.
It’s a strange blip in a routine home victory, and a hugely memorable distraction from a game that I would have otherwise always remembered for questioning whether I should have been there in the first place.
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