The postponement of football matches across the UK feels like a missed opportunity


It was probably not the first time football has been accused of being “not in tune with popular sentiment”. It certainly wasn’t the last.

It was February 1952 and Britain was mourning the death of King George VI. Shops and factories closed, as did cinemas and theaters, as the country ground to a halt. The BBC has canceled all programming except celebratory news bulletins and key shipping forecasts.

Most sporting events have also been postponed, including a rugby union match between England and Ireland.

But football kept playing.

Stanley Rous, the FA secretary, sent a letter to all clubs suggesting that playing the games scheduled for this weekend provided an opportunity to pay tribute with the playing of Abide With Me followed by a minute’s silence and the national anthem . Rous said it was “a simple yet sincere tribute (…) to the memory of our late beloved Patron”.

Inevitably, some took offense.

A search of the archives reveals a letter written to the Times this week by a Mr HM Gordon Clark of London, complaining that “rugby union football, racing, hunting, coursing and many other sports are all respectfully silent before the grief of the nation, football clubs are advised to be content with displays of mere outward signs of grief.”

Well-wishers honor Queen Elizabeth II outside Buckingham Palace (Photo: Carl Court/Getty Images)

Mr Clark went further and expressed his hope that “loyal citizens themselves will rebuke such behavior by staying away (…) and thus showing their entertainment providers how much they have lost touch with popular sentiment”.

Football went on and paid tribute in its own way.

The most eye-catching league game this weekend was the north London derby, in which Arsenal beat Tottenham Hotspur 2-1, but it says something about the era when The Times bolstered its sporting coverage with a report of Wimbledon’s win over Corinthian Casuals in the third Game-leading round of the FA Amateur Cup – ‘an uninspiring match, skill secondary to enthusiasm’, preceded by ‘an impressive minute’s silence (…) in simple homage to a king who had loved the sport so much’ .

How times change.

Seven decades later, after the death of Queen Elizabeth II on Thursday, UK shops will be open today, stage productions continue (with preparations for theaters dimming their lights for two minutes each night at 7pm as a mark of respect) and even This weekend’s rugby matches are taking place, as is the Great North Run half marathon, which raises admirable amounts of money for charities and other good causes.

The opening of the cricket test match between England and South Africa at The Oval in south London was postponed on Friday but the game begins on Saturday with a minute’s silence and players and officials wearing black armbands.

Britain’s horse racing authority announced that all Friday and Saturday meetings would be postponed out of respect for the late Queen and her “enduring and unique affinity and connection” with the sport, but the meetings (and tributes) would take place on Sunday.

But football has ground to a halt. All games scheduled for this weekend in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have been canceled out of respect.

This is not just a Premier League decision. This is the whole game, right down to grassroots football where, to take one example, volunteers in south London have expressed their dismay at the cancellation of a youth tournament involving 30 teams and more than 600 youngsters.

It’s an odd situation and while there will be a range of opinions on the matter, one personal view is that football authorities are wrong.

Not because it contributes to the growing problem of congestion on top-level fixture lists, but simply because the ‘stopping all clocks’ approach seems at odds with when there is a national sentiment evident at the moment.

As the Football Supporters Federation (FSF) put it in a statement on Friday afternoon: “We believe football is at its best when it brings people together at times of great national importance – be they moments of joy or moments of sadness. Our view, shared with the football authorities, is that most fans would have loved to have gone to the games this weekend and paid their respects to the Queen along with their fellow fans.”

The FSF acknowledged that there is “no perfect decision” for football authorities; They know better than anyone that their members are a diverse group with differing views, not only on this issue but on the broader issue of monarchy. But, as it added, “many fans will feel that this was a missed opportunity for football to pay its own special tribute”.

That’s exactly what the game did 70 years ago, continuing to play George VI in its own way and paying tribute to him.

It is all the stranger now to go the opposite way, at a time when society and sport seem to feel more comfortable with the football of the time.

FA and Premier League officials clearly disagreed.

For one, they feel like they would have been criticized regardless of their decision — and they’re probably right. Second, they point out that the Queen was Patron of the FA and her grandson William is her President. The EFL’s statement referred to football as the ‘national sport’, suggesting this brought a greater sense of duty.

It’s a strange one though. The ‘national sport’ part is difficult to reconcile when we weigh the difference between a cricket test match, in which England take on South Africa, a Commonwealth nation, and a series of club-level football matches, where local issues are at stake global television audience.

Does football exaggerate that?

the athlete‘s Jack Pitt-Brooke tweeted, wondering if the game’s executives were “exercising a little self-flagellation instinct, a ‘we can’t see we’re playing on’ sort of thing. “How dare we carry on as normal?”.

“It’s almost ascetic.”

That sounds right, like football is so desperate to do the right thing that it’s having a hard time recognizing the right thing to do. Or maybe it’s just afraid of its product and brand being ravaged by the kind of newspaper columnist or talk radio host who would be quick to label the Premier League a national DAMAGE for carrying on as usual (never stop making their own to question). decision to do the same).

There are so many practical questions for those affected by this weekend’s postponements: the supporters who have booked their trip (not least those from overseas) and those who may not be able to attend a new date; the casual workers who are becoming more reliant on their matchday earnings as the cost of living crisis deepens.

There are also obvious questions about device overloading.

Ironically, this season, when the Premier League is suspended between mid-November and December 26 to host the World Cup in Qatar, the cancellation of an entire weekend game program (and quite possibly a second one per week) coincides with the funeral of the queen) will wreak havoc. The calendar was already looking very busy for the 10 British clubs taking part in the three European competitions.

That doesn’t seem to have played a role here.

Nor should it have been.

When it comes to respect, it should be about principle rather than convenience. It would have been wrong to reluctantly continue because a crowded schedule left them with no alternative.

But playing the way British sports like cricket, rugby (both union and league) and ice hockey will today – and even the Queen’s beloved horse race tomorrow – seems right.

If society carried on as normal, from shops to factories to theaters, you may have imagined that football would feel comfortable doing so.

It felt like an opportunity. We got a glimpse of this at West Ham United’s Europa Conference League game against visiting Romanian FCSB on Thursday night, just under an hour after her death was announced, when the minute’s silence before the game was preceded by an impromptu performance of God Save The Queen and thunderous applause .

Not every fan base in England – or indeed Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – would claim to be on par with West Ham when it comes to royalist sentiments, but it was a strong, meaningful show of respect.

It could have been widely broadcast this weekend, hundreds of thousands of people from one end of the UK to the other, coming together to pay tribute to Elizabeth II in the same way football fans were invited to pay their respects to her father 70 years earlier.

It feels like a missed opportunity.

(Top Photo: Zac Goodwin/PA Images via Getty Images)


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