The year is 2020. The month is July. Liverpool have just won their first league title for 30 years by beating Burnley 2-0 in an empty stadium in Sydney. At the final whistle, the only cheers are from the players. The cardboard cut-outs in the stand are oblivious to what’s just happened.
Actually, it’s more like Burnley reserves as five of their first team didn’t show. They’ve refused to play. They have young families. One of them has a sick father. He has COPD. He can’t afford to catch Covid-19. The missing players have broken their contracts but they don’t care. Their club was sitting safely in mid-table. They’re not bothered. What’s the worst that can happen? Their lawyers are on it anyway.
Liverpool fans are delighted. Other clubs are laughing at them but they don’t care. For years everyone is going to write an asterisk by the name Liverpool FC. Man Utd fans will probably do it forever. They are already planning a new banner. But that matters not a jot to the Kop faithful. They have their title. Life, death, Shankly, etc
They gather at Anfield and celebrate until the early hours. Everyone forgets about social distancing. They dance and kiss each other. Nothing else matters. They’d waited a long time for this.
Two weeks on, ten of them are in hospital. One is on a life support machine.
At the other end of the league, Norwich City have been relegated. They refused to play and the deducted points left them well short of their survival target. It doesn’t make much difference. They probably would have gone down anyway. It was always a big ask.
Their fans aren’t too bothered. They have become increasingly alienated with this monster they had been so proud to join just a year earlier. They certainly didn’t sign up for this madness. Football wasn’t football any more before this all started.
But the behemoth that they have just left, the English Premier League, is feeling very pleased with itself. Their smiling faces are plastered across the back pages of the red tops along with the Liverpool team. They have defied the odds, pushed the doubters to one side, rode roughshod over the advice of the scientists and the feelings of fans.
The fixture list is complete. Contracts have been met. No sponsorships have to be recompensed. The betting companies are happy. No money will have to be paid back. Their obligations have been met and there are some substantial bonuses on their way into the executives’ bank accounts.
They knew if they could deliver, everything would return to normal and the mood of the nation would be lifted. It said so in the papers. Murdoch is preening himself in his ivory tower.
But not everyone is celebrating. A cloud has appeared on the horizon. Two of the league officials have a phone call. There is a rumour that a top Man City player – an England international – has become ill. He has been taken into hospital. He’s tested positive for Covid 19. He isn’t just ill, he is very ill. They think he will die.
Surely there must be some mistake. He’s an athlete. His body is in peak condition. It must be something else. Meningitis? A heart condition? He’s eaten something we expect? It can’t be Covid-19. It mustn’t be Covid-19.
But it is. The doctors and nurses are doing their best for him. Not because he’s a top international footballer. Not because he is worth millions of pounds. They do their best for everyone, whoever they are. Rich or poor. Famous or unknown. But it’s no good. They can’t save him.
Some of the league officials start to backtrack. ‘Well, we said all along to wait for a vaccine’… ‘The newspapers pressured us’ … ‘It wasn’t our fault’.
The backlash is stinging. He leaves behind a wife and three small children Everyone is shocked and devastated. Lawsuits abound. His family, his club, his company, his sponsors his brand. Lawyers are everywhere. Some cases will last decades.
The insurance companies are getting a bit twitchy:
“Can we have another look at the small print on that risk assessment document? … You did do one, didn’t you?”
The Premier league sponsors all withdraw. Barclays, Budweiser, Cadburys, Coca Cola, Nike, TAG Heuer all turn their backs on the EFL. It has become a pariah.
Leagues across Europe who terminated their owns seasons early walk away. ‘Your turd, you polish it.’
There will be no English Clubs in Europe for a very long time. Sky are no longer interested. They desert the spoiled brat that they created. ‘We think people like cricket better anyway…’
A hundred years from now a school history class is learning about the early part of the 21st century. They are concentrating on the events of 2020. ‘Is this fiction?’ asks a student. ‘Surely no one could be that stupid?
Don’t panic! It’ll all be fine…
As long as the neutral grounds have wide corridors. Apparently that’s one of the criteria. How can they seriously tell footballers not to get too close to an opponent in the tunnel then expect him to go out and play properly?
Jim Davies says
Ady, that first line was straight out of President Trump’s mantra!
Hadn’t heard about the wide corridor requirement, just shows how out of touch with reality some people are.
Just call it a day now, give Liverpool the title, but don’t tell their fans so they don’t decide to party, relegate us or not, I’m beginning to be past caring.
At the end of the day, I can see that the only people who’ll be happy at whatever is decided, will be the lawyers, who will see some fat pay days for years to come.
Stewart Lewis says
Kathy – I’ve told you before that you’re a very good writer.
Hope you now believe it too.
martin penney says
I had to read Orwell’s 1984 in sixth form but it wasn’t a patch on this.
Gary Field says
Thirty years of hurt, cardboard cutouts gleaming….
Very good, Kathy. No one seems to care, as long as the TV contracts are fulfilled. At least that’s how it seems in the alternative World that’s Premier League towers.
Andrew Jolly says
We are now starting to see just how, “money driven” this so called sport is and how out of touch with reality the people running it are. If they are left to sort this out, basing their decisions on the requirements of their paymasters at Sky, BT Sport, etc, etc, we will end up with a pale imitation of the game we know and love, all designed to keep the “Fat Cats” at the top happy, and of course richer than ever. I honestly think that despite all of the crap that is going on at present, the insurance companies that insure the players, many of them worth tens of millions of pounds to their clubs, agents and who have families, and others to support, will simply say, “we are not prepared to take the risk and will therefor not insure the players”. This will then negate any arrangements the Premier League and clubs have made because, without the correct insurance in place, the clubs cannot afford for their stars to play. Hopefully sense will be seen in the end.
Nick Litton says
That was very well said indeed
Andy Head says
Kathy – This is bloody brilliant.
And it would take an actual high profile death to properly get their attention. I really hope it doesn’t happen.
Beautifully written. Well done.
Ed C-L says
Bravo Kathy, superb stuff.
And something that might translate to reality. We will see…
Chris S says
Excellent. Kathy. Placing the ‘what-ifs’ right up next to the ‘ohmygods’. Let’s hope it doesn’t happen.
Excellent read Kathy, the big worry is that some of it could happen and some of it will happen. And an even bigger worry is it’s almost down to the flip of a coin which is which. Utter madness to even attempt Project Restart.
An excellent read and it is a good story.
The PFA escaped but all the papers are reporting that Graham Taylor is saying the games will not be 45mins each way as the players haven’t had a pre season he really is out of sync with the players, clubs and public.
Onwards and upwards
Keep safe and well looking forward to another installment of you writing.
Dan Rear says
Gordon Taylor, Alex? Good article, though am I the only one getting a bit fed-up of the anti-Sky/BT/Murdoch/EPL finance bit. Whatever we may think of the money men they do provide the £££ for everything else. Sorry to get a little deep, but capitalism does tend to work for most of us.
Kathy I salute you. We’ve been blessed with some wonderful writing on MFW but this piece trumps (sorry) them all. Simply an imperious piece! Bravo.
Well said Kathy; unfortunately I fear that the “suits” will press ahead regardless of anything other than their continued paydays from Sky; BT et al.
Particularly now that Germany are due to re-start later this month.
You really, really couldn’t make it up!
O T B C