I recently had a dream where I was in Anfield, in my season ticket seat in The Kop watching the Reds on a gorgeous, sunny day. Suddenly I got a notification on my phone — a surreal feat in itself if you’ve ever experienced Anfield’s lack of signal — telling me Liverpool had scored and Mohamed Salah was the scorer. I look up at the scoreboard and it’s 0-0, then out of nowhere the Reds attack and the Egyptian slots. What is real and what isn’t?
It’s all very Black Mirror I know, but in the current day what isn’t? It’s not unlikely that as a result of a health pandemic nobody seen coming that things become for want of a better word weirder when it comes to football’s future. The prospect of club’s having no match day revenue for over a year was once a preposterous notion that nobody would take seriously, now the ramifications of it’s reality are manifesting throughout the game and shaping its mid to long-term future.
A current topic of popularity is season tickets. Deciding what happens to those who have paid for a product technically still valid without any reasonable possibility of providing the remainder of the service is the pressing concern. The party line has been that of refunds for remaining matches outstanding, or deferring payment for those matches and discounting it off the price of next season’s balance.
But then what of next season? The mass gathering element of a football stadium is currently last on government and health experts’ list when it comes to easing lockdown restrictions, and there is growing opinion that there won’t be any games played in front of spectators for the entirety of next season and maybe beyond.
There is therefore a square to circle with season ticket holders first and foremost. I would not be surprised in this instance, if and when deemed safe to do so, these fans are brought back to stadium’s before anyone else. It would almost be a phased return to football supporting which would encompass social distancing at its core, as opposed to opening the floodgates one day and seeing what happens.
If you imagine that season ticket holders of Liverpool are allowed to return to the stadium with government approval, then that would mean that approximately 25,000 people would be allowed to attend a 52,000 seater stadium with no away fans. Protocols such as remaining two metres apart and wearing masks would be enforced and mandatory at all times, meaning you’d be sat in an area of the stadium with space around you and your mouth covered.
There are several questionable elements to this theory — of which which I have completely plucked out of thin air it must be added. Firstly, the reasonable matter of fairness. Why should a season ticket holder of one year get the chance to watch live football instead of a member’s scheme attendant of ten years stuck on a waiting list and who goes to every game they can? Second is the issue of black market tickets which would sky-rocket and have a detrimental impact on how you control who is coming into the stadium. Whether they’ve had a COVID-19 diagnosis or recent symptoms etc.
There is also the continued health aspect. A gathering even in this respect would still constitute a huge risk while the virus is in circulation. Much like players, supporters might not agree to returning to this environment until something like a vaccine is in place. All of that said, this remains but one possibility based on a strange dream I had about a dystopian future in which football supporting has changed forever. As if anything like that will ever come true…