If The Arsenal is the only club making redundancies I’ll be surprised, and if it remains at 55 then they will have done well. Yesterday’s announcement was a timely reminder of reality, not just for this club, but for football in general – and, although it pains to say it, for the world beyond. Since the return of televised football and the attendant drama of league seasons ending and promotion and relegation issues finalised, it has been easy to turn a blind eye to the lack of crowds (tv production teams quickly learnt to avoid shots of empty stands, became better at piping in crowd noise) and to pretend that everything was OK. For us, with glorious victory over City and then Chelsea to win our 14th FA Cup, it seemed that the age of Arteta could well be ushering in success of Wengerian proportions.
But Covid 19 is not going anywhere (and Covid 21 and 23 are waiting in the wings no doubt) and normal service won’t be resumed until a vaccine is found, tested and then rolled out world-wide. That is unlikely to be until springtime 2021 at the earliest. The UK government’s hope to have fans back in stadiums this autumn is already dashed, and the imperative to get schools open again will surely mean other freedoms will be curtailed. With a second corona wave feared as autumn turns to winter it will be harder and harder to keep playing squads, coaches, medical teams, referees and linesmen free from the virus. Nobody will be going to the Emirates anytime soon.
Sports that make for easy social distancing have been back on the menu for enthusiastic amateurs for several months now: great news for cricketers and golfers and tennis players, and its encouraging to see that football (training at least) is beginning again. The hope is that competitive matches will start later this month, but so much depends on the virus remaining under (relative) control, and with local lockdowns now happening I cannot see too much football happening outside the professional game this coming season. I strongly suspect that the UK will not be alone in this, and I worry for the development of young players across the world: for all sorts of reasons it’s probably not a great time to be a scout.
So I think that sad though it was to hear of redundancies I fear we will hear of more and more. I wonder how many fans have already renewed their season tickets, or indeed whether the club has even asked them to do so. I probably would not have renewed my Red Membership had I remembered it was on a standing order so I expect that many more savvy than me will not have contributed to the ongoing wealth of KSE Inc. I wonder too how easy it will be for fans to afford expensive TV subscriptions if their own jobs are jeopardised, so I suspect there are some ongoing and quite tense discussions going on between networks, leagues and governments. I would be particularly fearful if I was involved in promoting European Cups and Leagues come September.
Arsenal FC is everybody’s favourite whipping boy right now (and when, to be fair wasn’t it) but although you may find fault with its timing or its PR or even the whole way the club is run I strongly suspect that it is in a far better and more honest situation than many clubs in the Premiership. Heaven alone knows what it looks like in the lower leagues, and although I don’t think it will quite come to this, I do fear for the future of the game itself. In his magnificent poem MCMXIV Philip Larkin talks about the way the outbreak of the First World War was received, picturing the innocent way the men lined up at the recruiting stations as if it were ‘all some Bank Holiday lark’. Never such innocence again, he concludes, and I find myself in similar cast of thought as I hear Prime Ministers and others who ought to know better assure me that everything will be back to normal by Christmas time.
But then what do I know? Easier by far to blame it all on Big Stan or Mesut Ozil while getting ready for a trip to Piebury Corner and The Tollington.
Tim Head, @foreverheady