Wednesday 24 June 2020

Watching Football In ‘The New Normal’

Saturday 20th June saw football ‘return’ – at least for me. My team, Wigan Athletic, are currently involved in a 7/8 team battle to avoid the Championship relegation zone, with the promotion places similarly being competitive.

With so much money at stake, the league was always going to continue in some form – aside from the obvious windfall clubs will get by winning promotion to the Premier League, the drop in TV money from The Championship to League One is massive too (which explains why League One and Two were ended with Points-Per-Game).

With the rest of the season being played behind closed doors, this leaves season ticket holders somewhat short. As a season ticket holder at Wigan, I was presented with 3 different options instead of being able to attend in person:

  • A pro-rata refund.
  • Put credit towards next season’s season ticket.
  • ‘Donate’ the remaining credit to the club for a streaming pass for the remaining 9 games.
As I’ve already spent the money, I’ve missed watching games and I’ve got everything I need to stream it on the telly – I chose the latter option. It offered great value; I get to watch the remaining 9 games (instead of the 5 home games I would have been entitled to) and the club keeps the money, so everyone’s a winner. I should say that this was the best option for me – in times like this where money is scarce, it’s understandable that people would want refunds.

Hooking up my laptop to my telly with an HDMI cable, I got settled for ‘the new normal’ watching football – to be honest, I didn’t notice much difference. Our match was a particularly important one at Huddersfield, who are also hovering around the bottom end of the table. Obviously, no crowd being there made for a weird atmosphere, but I found that after 10 minutes of watching the game, I didn’t really notice, as I concentrated on the play.

The most interesting aspect of these remaining games will be to see how the home teams get on without a home crowd there to cheer them on (and to sway the referee, which we all know doesn’t happen…) – and there certainly were some interesting results in The Championship, where only TWO home sides managed to win (Cardiff and Blackburn, who we are hosting next week, coincidentally). Winning 2-0, Wigan continued their pre-lockdown form; it took a while for them to get going, but once they were able to get their pressing game sorted, the team controlled the match from then on.

Huddersfield looked a little tired if truth be told – despite making the five substitutes (the rule brought in for these remaining games) they still had a player going down with cramp late on. Whilst the players have been in training for a couple of weeks, they’ve essentially had to fit in a full pre-season in that time, with only one-or-two friendly matches for practice. You can’t get up to speed physically in that time.

Overall, the streaming service was great – full HD, no connection issues or anything. Apparently, supporters of teams who use the iFollow service had connection problems at kick-off – the server provider not making concessions for the sheer volume of people who would have been streaming. Although Wigan’s feed is provided by iFollow, it’s hosted on another server – so it was fine for me and the millions of other Wigan fans across the globe!

The issue with the atmosphere at these empty grounds is a sticking point for many – as I said, I don’t mind it, but others said they found it a hard watch. The Premier League games have seen crowd noise pumped into the grounds to make up for it – I don’t like it, to be honest. It’s been designed to ‘create familiar surroundings’ for the players and the people watching back home. The problem is that I know it’s fake and the players know it’s fake – wouldn’t that work to provide a negative effect? I even watched one game where it was clear someone was in charge of a soundboard and had to do the ‘ooohs’ and ‘aaahs’ whenever there’s a chance, but unless they’re psychic, it’s always going be a couple of seconds behind.

Another thing clubs (including Wigan) have done is to have cardboard cut-outs of supporters (and certain notorious people) at grounds – again, I’m not a fan (it sounds a bit ridiculous on the face of it), but as they’re raising a bit of money for the clubs who’ve had their income streams hit, I’m more willing to let it slide. Our cardboard cut-outs cost £20 for the remaining games, so I’m currently racking my brains of a notorious celebrity that will get through the censors!

The good thing about our teams playing behind closed doors is that it shines a spotlight on how important supporters in a match-environment – hopefully this dystopian future where we all watch on television in the homes we live, work and play in 24/7 won’t happen now, as we’ve experienced what it’s like? Maybe the importance of supporters will be shown some appreciation when games do resume with cheaper ticket prices…okay, I concede that’s less likely than the dystopian future!

So whilst this new normal will do for now, I hope we get back to being in stadiums before long – it isn’t just the matches we all miss, it’s everything we do before and after; the meeting up with friends/family, travelling, going to pubs, exploring new places, meeting new people…you can’t recreate that with streaming, WhatsApp or Twitter.


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