It is an uneasy world at present. It is a world where uncertainty breeds conjecture, it invites speculation, and it produces panic and very often conspiracy. At the time of writing, the death toll in Italy from Coronavirus has climbed to 148, an increase of 41 from yesterday, with 3,296 diagnosed positive for the disease. Talking of football in this case may seem secondary; it perhaps is, but Jurgen Klopp’s comments this week ran true. He said that he was no expert on the virus, so he would only talk about what he knew about: football. Therefore, I decided to do the same.
In all the madness throughout the last weeks in Italy, it has been hard not to despair at some of the league’s decisions. The dithering of the FIGC has left many to lambast the authorities, the government and the clubs. Social media in particular has been a hotbed of people making bombastic claims about the virus and reactions taken to protect the populous. It has affected football, that is clear, it has affected people’s plans and it has affected the schedule, but I wanted to know how it had hampered those whose livelihood depends on it.
Looking to the world of Italian football journalism, I asked four very respected but different members of this community to give me their thoughts on how this situation had affected them and also what they thought the solution should be until the end of the season. The answers I received were not only refreshing, but logical and not self-serving.
Sheridan Bird is a journalist and broadcaster who lives in Milan and has certainly felt the effects of recent events. When asked about how the league should continue, his answer was swift and succinct. “The matches must be played, there is no extra space in the calendar, if the only way is to play behind closed doors, so be it.” The point is valid; with the Euros looming, it is the only possible way to finish the season.
It was a view shared by Adam Digby, Italian Football writer and author of ‘Juventus: A History in Black & White’. “Given that there is no way of knowing when this situation will ease, playing behind closed doors is the only viable solution. Football without fans isn’t really football, but even a sterile match with no atmosphere is better than cancelling the season altogether, or weeks of frustrating postponements.”
The cancellations have made many angry, as there has been no concrete approach to the problem. Football without fans is not really football, as Adam says. Even I tried to make the best out of Inter v Ludogorets, being impressed by the professionalism of the players, but it was a tough watch.
I also spoke with Andy Pickering, commentator on Italian Football for Infront Sports, who agreed that either the season should be cancelled or even better that they play behind closed doors. The Lega Serie A had not handled this at all well, but at last the correct decision has been reached.
Richard Hough, a Hellas Verona season ticket holder and creator of ‘The Crazy Faithful’, would be one of those fans who would miss the games. Based in Verona, he was certain that playing behind closed doors was “the only viable option,” but called for clarity and consistency, which has been sorely lacking.
Many people have criticised the decision to play the games behind closed doors as they have trips booked, they will lose money, they will miss games and it has interrupted plans. I understand that, but as the aforementioned people rightly, said what is the option? I too had plans to watch Venezia, Hellas Verona and Inter before the end of the campaign and all are now shelved. This is why I chose to talk to people who work in the game or live in Italy and directly experience the situation. I decided to ask all of them how they have been inconvenienced and the answers were refreshing.
“I don’t really think about how it affects me from a professional standpoint, the health of the wider community is far more important,” said Adam Digby. This was a point echoed by Sheridan Bird whose working life certainly has been impacted as he regularly goes to games whose travel plans, hotels, rail tickets and more, are simply changed, cancelled or moved daily. He also looked at the bigger picture, saying the reasons are comprehensible and it’s the same for thousands of fans as well as his friends in the written press.
Andy Pickering, whose commentaries are evidently hampered, claimed that it was annoying more than anything else, as the uncertainty was the bigger issue. Finally, Richard Hough said that he has not really been inconvenienced as, whilst he will miss games, he feels for the fans and his friends in the UK who have travel plans disrupted and agreed with Andy that the lack of a clear plan has only exacerbated the problem.
What to take from this? It is simple. This is a small snapshot of the people working in the industry or living in Italy in the areas that are affected. They have livelihoods that depend on the game or they have projects, life, travel and more hampered by this situation. The uniformity of the answers as I said was refreshing, as they were logical and not self-serving. Play the games behind closed doors, finish the season and yes, even though their lives would be disrupted, the bigger picture is people’s health.