Chris Hargreaves gives his weekly look at the football scene
IT’S a bit of a worry when Premier League and Championship clubs are announcing ‘significant’ numbers of positive tests across their playing and coaching staff.
These clubs are clinical in their protocols, training and matchday’s are intensely monitored to make sure that sessions and games are as safe as possible for all concerned, and yet mass testing is proving that we just do not know who is or isn’t carrying the virus, and that the threat to all of us remains constant.
Southampton v Shrewsbury was called off recently, Aston Villa fielded a mix of U23s and U18s to play Liverpool on Friday, and both Villa and Derby County have had to close their training grounds to stop any further spread.
Fixtures are being cancelled across all of the Leagues, including the National League. All of these games have to be rearranged and played in what is already becoming a fixture backlog.
At this rate, once more we will be having an extended season, and or, a points-per-game situation on the horizon.
Clubs are trying their best to keep players and staff safe and to follow league protocols, but it isn’t full proof.
Many have asked the question of whether football or rugby, or any elite team sport for that matter, can or should continue.
I know it’s such a tough call, considering how stretched the NHS are at the moment, it certainly isn’t life or death, but I do feel that elite sport should continue, for so many different reasons.
We are talking about fit healthy young men and women in the main, both players and staff. Support staff in and around these organisations and clubs are protecting themselves by working at home or by being well away from groups.
On balance, I feel for the well-being of the millions of sport fans across the country, whose obsession and passion is seeing ‘their’ team perform each week, and for the players and staff of these clubs, that leagues and club competitions should continue.
Let’s hope that, after the most vulnerable groups have been immunised, we can roll out vaccines across the population, sport can flourish once more, and fans can get back onto the terraces and offer us their special brand of support, or constructive criticism!
What does annoy a lot of people – and I certainly cannot argue with them – is that during a pandemic, when businesses are going under and millions are struggling financially, football clubs are still signing players for tens of millions of pounds, and some players seemingly thinking that they are immune to both the virus, or to the rules.
Having parties, breaking protocols, paying a quick £50,000 fine, all in a day’s work. Come on lads, lets show some sense and a modicum of humility here. Now is not the time to be popping Crystal bottles, and it certainly isn’t the time to be splashing the cash around when most of the population are struggling.
One story that lightened the football mood at the weekend was Crawley Town’s brilliant win over Leeds United.
They say football is a small world and ‘they’ are right. I worked with John Yems, the Crawley manager, at AFC Bournemouth. I played with their assistant manager, Lee Bradbury, at Oxford and I know three of the Crawley players very well, having worked with them at Bristol Rovers. What a job those boys did, a huge well done to all.
It’s never easy for ‘big’ clubs to play against lower league opposition, especially when the opposition is having a really good season in their own league. The margins are so small at times.
Marine couldn’t quite emulate that result against Spurs, but even though no fans were present, the club still have a bank of incredible FA Cup run memories to look back on, and a few quid in the bank.
Newport County almost continued their giantkilling feats against Premier League opposition, but for an awesome penalty shoot performance by Brighton’s goalkeeper, Jason Steele, who saved four penalties. They ran the Seagulls all the way. These stories are what make the FA Cup so special, 16-year-olds scoring debut goals, penalty shoot-outs, giantkillings and underdogs… how can we dare even criticise this famous old competition?
I have played in so many FA Cup games over the years, both in teams where we were the underdog in the later rounds, but also when we were expected to trounce the opposition.
I will never forget one of those games, a Sunday afternoon, the live Match of the Day game. Gary Lineker lining up the questions for Alan Hansen to summarise in the only way he knew how.
I was at Brentford at the time, we were right at the top of League One and we were expected to batter Hinkley at their place.
John Salako missed a penalty for us in the first few minutes, and the rest was a blur. Hansen hammered us all, but somehow by the grace of God we managed to scrape a 0-0 draw on a bobble fest of a pitch.
Seeing Martin Allen at half-time was a sight to behold, never mind full-time. We eventually went down in a fifth round replay to Southampton that year, but the journey in the FA Cup is always special.
I’m sure the midfielder I played against that day at Hinkley had been on an intravenous drip of pure Red Bull overnight.
We beat Luton in the next round and I managed to ‘sclaff’ one into the top corner. I even managed to drag my young son out of the crowd that day when celebrating. The highs and lows of the FA Cup in a few short paragraphs. I’ll get some tissues.