Stuart Webber delivered a performance of all the logic, rationale and nuance that has been lacking in debates surrounding Project Restart on Sky Sports yesterday morning.
He believes the remaining games should be played out at home and away venues.
He believes the Premier League’s – and the Championship’s – conclusion should be played out on the pitch, not adjudicated by an arbitrary, manufactured ‘points per game’ sort of scenario.
He cogently defended the club’s use of the Government furlough scheme.
As ever, we are so lucky to have him.
The softly-spoken – but invariably hard-hitting – Welshman hit the nail on the head on virtually every issue that has been dominating the footballing agenda in recent weeks.
Personally, the main issue bugging me since the Project Restart proposals were first placed on the table was the notion that wanting football’s return and showing respect for those suffering are somehow mutually exclusive, with a desire for the top flight’s resumption rendering you a blinkered, money-driven and perhaps insensitive individual.
The unfolding COVID-19 crisis is a tragedy. The daily death tolls continue to provide a grim reminder of the pernicious, horrible, and seemingly long-term threat of coronavirus.
Of course, football should not resume in any competitive form until it is completely safe to do so. Of course, players should only take to the pitch if they believe they will be sufficiently protected. However, once these conditions have been met, it is surely difficult to deny that it will – even behind closed doors – lift spirits and provide a welcome escape from the sobering daily government briefings.
Enjoying football’s resumption – in an albeit diluted and inevitably slightly less entertaining form – can be achieved while simultaneously sympathising with victims and their families.
And then there was the ludicrous neutral grounds proposal, a motion first proposed based on flimsy police advice that would unequivocally contravene the conditions of the league.
Clubs – reportedly up to 13 in total – had every right to oppose Mark Roberts’ bogus plan. Norwich City, and every Premier League club, is entitled to their full allocation of 19 home games, something I was relieved to see maintained following the league’s summit on Monday.
People argue with no fans, home advantage is somehow rendered irrelevant. Nonsense. Do people seriously expect Todd Cantwell, Christoph Zimmerman, Teemu Pukki and co to feel anywhere near as comfortable playing a ‘home game’ at Wembley as they would at the familiarity of Carrow Road?
To use Roberts’ own words – get a grip.
Then there was the idea that thousands of fans would flock to these home grounds, another perpetuation of lunacy that I just cannot envisage materialising. People aren’t idiots. Football fans aren’t all riotous, disorderly thugs – perhaps it’s the thousands currently congregating in public parks who really are? – and the belief that they are is a snobbish one to take.
Also, why would people turn up given it would mean they would then be unable to watch the game on TV? With grounds sufficiently prepared to deal with the unlikely prospect of people appearing – about 50-100 idiots at a maximum, I would predict – playing at home should be no issue at all.
In conjunction with sponsorship rights – would Errea, Dafabet etc get the exposure they desire and pay big bucks for at Vicarage Road? – and clubs’ medical staff without doubt feeling more equipped to deal with danger in their own surroundings, the proposal to play at ten neutral venues was surely always a non-starter.
So Webber, Paul Barber, Christian Purslow, Scott Duxbury – and perhaps nine others – were totally entitled to reject Roberts’ view. And I won’t lie, I was thrilled they prevailed, as reported by The Times and The Daily Mail over the last two days.
I was similarly relieved that City’s top brass remained quiet last week, not following in Brighton, Aston Villa as Watford’s footsteps in vehemently – and publicly – declaring their opposition to the plans. As ever, the club continues to be run in the right, considered and pragmatic way.
So Webber’s appearance on Sky Sports’ The Football Show, coupled with the club’s announcement regarding ticket rebates – with the option to either donate to the Academy or the Community Sports Foundation – made Wednesday morning a moment when I was proud to be a City fan.
Webber’s triumvirate of views in wanting football’s resumption, opposing neutral grounds and rejecting PPG – seasons constitute 38 and 46 matches, where uncertainty reigns supreme during the run-in – represented a performance of the eloquence, rationality and balance that has been so visibly absent in recent weeks.
With or without football, we are so lucky to have him.