Don't Blame Liverpool and Leeds Fans for Celebrating Outside Their Stadiums
If only they had known. If only there had been some kind of clue. A recent precedent from which they might have learned a thing or two. A well-documented and much-traduced pandemic-unfriendly, massed gathering of jubilant football fans outside an Anfield-sized, Anfield-shaped football stadium called Anfield, for example. If only.
Then maybe, just maybe, the decision-makers at Premier League HQ would have seen incontrovertible evidence that might have helped them to decide upon doing the decent thing. To realise that, in the interests of public health during a global pandemic, staging a trophy presentation inside an Anfield-sized, Anfield-shaped football stadium called Anfield may very well lead to identical scenes.
Contrary to the hoary old saw about football without fans being nothing, we have learned in recent weeks that, while far from perfect, it is sometimes marginally better than no football at all. By contrast, trophy handovers without fans, specifically the kind conducted by a couple of men wearing surgical masks, really are nothing if not weird and fecklessly irresponsible on the part of those who gave the go-ahead for them to take place. At some point while looping his bit of PPE kit around his ears, did it not occur to the Premier League chief executive, Richard Masters, that what he was about to do alongside Kenny Dalglish was a terrible idea?
He did not need the evidence of the ribald crowd scenes outside Anfield on the night Liverpool’s players won the league in absentia to know a fair old throng of locals would convene when their heroes turned up to collect the silverware. He had it anyway but chose to ignore it, while at Elland Road similar scenes of health-endangering public jubilation unfolded under the banner of the notoriously hapless blazers who run the Football League.
In Leeds it was worse, the club everyone used to love to hate but now quite likes having parked a stationary open-top bus outside Elland Road, all the better for their triumphant players to commune with an alarming number of socially undistanced and overjoyed fans who had been repeatedly urged to stay away because – checks official club statement – it would “assist dispersal should a crowd congregate at Elland Road”. No, really. They wrote that.
Both sets of fans deserve some sympathy. They have endured long and painful spells in their own particular purgatories and in the case of the former, who in all honesty can blame them for flying in the face of government guidelines and the law to celebrate yet again? These supporters have suffered a fabled 30-year title drought during which the only Premier League trophy they saw presented at Anfield was immediately whisked away on the Blackburn team bus. They are entitled and should be encouraged to enjoy the ceremony that officially marked its conclusion. It is their enablers who deserve our bah-humbuggish opprobrium.
While those gathered outside Anfield were having an undeniably good time in the company of like-minded individuals basking in their team being presented with the Premier League trophy, they would probably have had even more fun if they could have actually seen the moment Jordan Henderson hoisted it skywards in the flesh. Another good reason, perhaps, why the Premier League could have considered postponing their presentation until the occasion of the big knees-up Jürgen Klopp has assured Liverpool supporters they will all be able to enjoy together “when this bullshit virus is gone”.
It is perhaps also worth noting Klopp’s mooted party would almost certainly take place a whole lot sooner rather than later if the brains trust at the Premier League and their Football League counterparts had resisted the urge to stage trophy presentations for the benefit of TV cameras that were always going to prompt the kind of illegal mass gatherings in which any bullshit virus worth its salt will inevitably thrive. We have not yet experienced a potentially devastating second wave of infections, but there is no guarantee they are not coming.
No laws were broken in handing out glittering prizes in the weirdly sterile and empty bio-domes that are depressingly empty football stadiums during a global pandemic, but in doing so the blazers tacitly encouraged those who couldn’t resist the urge to have some small peripheral presence at the occasions to put themselves and others at risk. In terms of those all important optics, Wednesday night’s festivities in Liverpool and Leeds were anything but a good look for the administrators of the leagues both teams won.
But what about the beaches? Eh? And the parks? Why do football and those who follow it invariably find themselves in the firing line when so many others are equally culpable of further endangering public health? They are fair questions and ones worth asking if you subscribe to the bizarre but apparently widely held notion that football fans only like football, beach-goers only like sun, sea and sand, and never the twain shall meet.
Well, guess what? A lot of folk have a variety of different interests, including football and beach-going, so it is hardly a massive leap to suggest the intersection of the particular Venn diagram in which both sets feature is decidedly large. While those gathered outside Anfield and Elland Road are undeniably football fans, they are also people; some of whom can’t be trusted and who wouldn’t be human if they didn’t feel the urge to celebrate the end of a difficult and emotionally draining job exceptionally well done by their respective teams. It is the football’s authorities at whom we should point our Big Finger of Blame.