As the weirdest of years gets even weirder, the weirdest of football seasons finally got underway on Saturday, the sodden murk at Gainsborough providing a fitting backdrop to perhaps the strangest and most low-key start to any season in Boston United’s history.
As late as the previous Wednesday, no-one was certain the season would even begin. By Thursday, a financial package had, apparently, been agreed to ensure it could, although no-one knew the details. By Friday, we knew some of the details but not all of the details, and there was the possibility of live commentary and maybe a stream. Perhaps. No-one knew.
And then on Saturday, almost unexpectedly, the football started, except such was its subtle arrival I completely forgot it was even happening until I switched on a YouTube stream with the Pilgrims already 3-1 up against AFC Mansfield, who you might remember from having those violent fans they claimed weren’t theirs. Was it really the new season, though? It sure didn’t feel like it.
“Football without fans is nothing” has been the mantra since March, and while many of us tolerated the stadium bans of last season, starting a new campaign under the same kind of restrictions feels utterly disheartening. We’ve been robbed of a proper farewell to York Street, robbed of a huge opening for the new stadium, and now starved of the chance to even watch our team groundsharing in Gainsborough, of all places – although fans were allowed in there for a friendly just a few weeks ago. Who can blame us for feeling bewildered, not to mention a bit bereft?
Boston United have built one of their most exciting squads for many seasons, and no-one – not least the club itself – has a clue when any of us might get to see it in action. It’s a confusing, frustrating time. Of course, no-one wishes to trivialise the genuine suffering of Covid-19 victims as this appalling pandemic has progressed, but when Oxford United’s staff can look past their empty stands and see people queueing for the cinema, it’s right to question the decisions that have led us to this point.
The banning of fans also breeds a sort of bitter paranoia, one I felt immediately when I tuned into YouTube and saw a few people standing on the terraces behind Trinity’s goal. One was a steward, although there was no-one to actually steward and he didn’t seem particularly interested in acting as an impromptu ball-boy either, standing idle as another guy ran after any wayward shots. Why was he there? No idea. A few feet further along, a couple of other guys stood watching the game – no social distancing. Who were they? Why were they getting to watch football on a Saturday afternoon while I was condemned to be sat here next to a dribbling cat, writing notes in a panic for a season that might never finish?
I’m sure there were reasons, although I feel anyone who went to Fylde should get first dibs on being a pointless steward. But why has football been singled out? If the Royal Albert Hall can be opened up with reduced capacity, then why not the Jakemans? I bet we’ve even got better acoustics now too.
To illustrate the point, I took a trip to Devon last week and watched maskless tourists – all well into their seventies – disembark from coaches in tightly wound groups and stroll aimlessly about Teignmouth in search of afternoon tea and non-existent bingo. What, exactly, makes a bus holiday safer than a few hundred football fans being allowed to disperse themselves around the generous spaces of non-league football grounds? What’s the science behind it? Is there even any science behind it?
It’s one thing banning Premier League football, where fans frequently use public transport to arrive at grounds. It’s a different story in the National League North. We don’t tend to do mass-transit down here. Gainsborough has two railway stations and I’d still get there faster in a hot air balloon made of bricks. It’s ridiculous to compare the levels.
Anyway. It is what it is. Enough moaning. Let’s think about something more cheerful.
The signings? Fantastic. Really good. Elliott and his Twitter-teasing right-hand-man Richard Boryszczuk have completed some magnificent business over the summer. You know a signing is good when fans of other clubs are texting you to ask “How d’ya bag him?”, as happened a few times, not least from my Notts County-supporting mates.
The stadium? Wow, it looks good. The main stand looks like an instant classic, the floodlights are already attracting jealous admirers, and the pitch looks stunning. I can’t wait to watch a game there. But of course, we can’t go there yet thanks to SARS-Cov-2. Brilliant.
Frankly, I hate coronaviruses even more than I hate North Ferriby, Hashtag United, and green olives. Oh well. Maybe see you at a game in 2022?