From an empty, silent, Goodison for the Merseyside Derby to officials on the sidelines looking like off-brand Mortal Kombat characters…
From Big Dunc wearing surgical gloves AND his famous blue wristband to someone playing “Baker Street” on their sax nearby…
And for me, living across the pond, it’s weird to see Black Lives Matter embraced by all involved.
Weird, but very good.
At Goodison, everyone (Sadio Mane’s pavlovian reaction to the whistle aside) took a knee. All players had “Black Lives Matter” on their shirts. Alexander-Arnold had it on his feet, too.
For a large swathe of the country where I live, the scene I painted above isn’t one that would happen. Lots find kneeling offensive. Lots find masks offensive. Lots see both as overly political. The three words “Black lives matter” isn’t a truth that everyone holds to be self evident. Lots have to qualify it, with “All lives matter…” Some, like the Vice President, refuse to say it. I’m not naive enough to think there aren’t people like that in England too, you just have to look to the sky at the Etihad, but the solidarity on display at Goodison as all took a knee, was heartening,
I wanted football to be back, but I needed that reminder that those three words aren’t political, they are true. Words worth screaming from rooftops, worth kneeling for, worth wearing on the back of your shirt, and on your sleeve: Black Lives Matter.
The game itself?
Utterly surreal, like so many things. In a world of drive through graduation ceremonies and Zoom weddings, a silent derby day Goodison certainly fits.
For those viewing at home, and that’s pretty much all of us, we had the option to listen to fake crowd noise, like canned laughter for an unfunny comedy or a fluffer for a porn star who doesn’t quite fancy it…
Carlo Ancelotti marshalls us well. We’re lucky to have him. Or at least, lucky to be able to afford him. We’re no mugs, even without Goodison roaring us on, and against the soon to be asterisk Premier League champions, we did well. We had more chances than them, and Jordan Pickford didn’t have much work to do at all. Tom Davies, possibly bolstered by a lack of Goodison boos, did OK. Not bad, not good, just OK. And right now, that’s OK.
Half-way through the match an Arsenal fan texted me and said that we pass the ball out of the back better than them. Damned with faint praise.
75 minutes in, I started to question everything. My internet connection was fading, the hitherto crisp HD image on my laptop turned fuzzy. Watching the derby where I couldn’t make out any players, and couldn’t hear any fans, seemed absurd. But I continued.
Eventually my connection rose like Lazarus so I could witness Moise Kean being given two seconds to make an impression.
It’s hard to come to any solid judgments on our players from this game. Rustiness, lack of match fitness, and injuries meant that it would be unfair to assess progress in a game that felt in many ways like a pre season friendly…. Aside from one thing, one thing is certain:
Football without fans is crap.
Removing fans takes us from white water rafting to punting down a gentle river. Turns out, football without fans is passionless. Who knew? Perhaps, when all this stops, and something resembling normality starts, they’ll appreciate that fans are everything to this game.
Without fans, yes even the Tom Davies boo boys, this sport is just a cold business transaction. It’s football, but not as we know it.