After more than 50 years in the game at every level, National League operational support director Colin Peake is arguing that everybody needs to unite and be patient amid the coronavirus crisis with no easy way to find the best solutions for the whole of football.
Fans to flock back to football? It’s not happening yet; but in these unprecedented times, fans denied their football is a strong pill to swallow.
If only such a simple solution was available to combat the global virus stoppage of our game and so unlock us from government intervention from something we hold dear and with great affection?
The National League like all of football faces uncertainty with a common enemy the cause. For once fans are united in wishing to see the game restart as soon as possible.
Deep down football fans are a breed with a passion for the game unrivalled in sport. They even have a problem with a close season, when players take a well earned holiday, so this enforced break is harder to contemplate when it’s not even summer and we cannot go out and do something different for a few weeks.
We know how much our member clubs are exemplary focal hubs for many people through community based projects. They also provide a whole raft of other opportunities for engagement with the club and its players.
Fans are in the main a loyal and dedicated bunch. Home and away they travel to support THEIR club. Socialising is part of the match day experience and that feeling of belonging is a tangible thing to smell and touch. Perhaps inappropriate words in these troubled times but you get the drift!
In living memory for most fans across all levels, no one can recall football being stopped so abruptly with grounds becoming deserts of inactivity, whereas before they were an oasis to visit and not just for 90 minutes.
Looking back to history some very senior members of our families will be able to recall when football was suspended in 1939 and did not restart properly until 1946/47. In my case I would have to ask my father if he were still around.
Even during those barren years clubs were still able to play matches and service teams abounded to allow those able to get their ‘footie fix’. It was amazing even without organised competitive matches how crowds would still gather. It was different times indeed back then but can we judge then with now?
We have at this time no definitive date when we will restart and most importantly how it will restart across the whole of the National Game. We need consensus from the whole of football which underpins the game below the Premier and Football Leagues.
We at the National League cannot do it in isolation. We must meet this head on and act as one. Numerous rumours are circulating across social media and when do they not in today’s society of wanting instant answers.
Favoured preference will of course undoubtedly depend on where your club is in the table at this time; and being so close to the final matches of an exciting and another record breaking season across all three divisions of The National League.
At least in 1939 when World War Two stopped the game, it was almost at the start of that season. Comparing chalk with cheese is impossible.
Back then, after no competitive football for almost seven years, fans were desperate to re-engage with the game. Football was a dominant leader in sporting attendances, as opposed to the many other sports and leisure pursuits which the general public can now attend in person; watch on television or via social media streaming.
The world has certainly changed since 1946. Whether for the better is a personal thing, if you could accurately assess the two differences after almost 75 years apart. For the majority, here and now, it remains to be seen how fans react to football returning to LIVE action and how much the terraces at your club will be swelled by the nation just wanting to see a return to a modicum of normality.
One suspects that in many ways it will be like the magic of the FA Cup which captivates the local populace with a desire, even if only a fleeting one, to attend their local club for that once in a lifetime chance to witness something they may never see again.
Football clubs must prepare itself for those with a curious mind! The current impasse of deserted stadiums, with associated assets attached to them, will surely impact on those who hold the local football club close to family, friends and working colleagues.
That first day back will be a time to rejoice and past differences will be set aside as fans join together in unison. Can we expect an influx, as the 1946 model? Will fans flock back as they did then?
It will be interesting to see what evolves when football does emerge from these unsettled dark days. It will be unashamedly our collective bonding which will be the key to turnstiles clicking again.
That tangible sense of belonging is something only the true football fan can taste in the air. Waking up excited to the richness of a match day experience is an intrinsic part of the football fan fabric. Fans will flock back to football. Of that there will be no doubt.
Despite how we may feel at present there is a rainbow waiting to emerge over the horizon! It is the only POSITIVE thing any of us want to be tested on at this time. Stay true to your colours. And above all else – Stay safe!
Make sure you get your copy of The Non-League Paper on a Sunday for the latest news from across Non-League over the last seven days on the growing impact of the coronavirus on the game and society.
Colin Peake – Operational Support Director at The National League – 19 March 2020.
Images courtesy of The Non-League Paper