June issue available now online and in store
Football & Covid-19: Premier League wages row | Scotland’s season ends | Match chats on Zoom
Reaction in Europe: Restart plans in Italy | Spain counts the cost | Belarus plays on
Project Restart too risky to rush | Tributes to Peter Bonetti & Norman Hunter | Fantasy League drama | Norway’s unique stadium | An unlucky Preston fan | View from the away end | South Yorkshire’s mining clubs | How to be an eSports star | Match fixing in Sweden | New boss for Lionesses | Kick-off on the Isle of Man | Focus on Paulo Wanchope | Dundee United’s title triumph
Wage war Furlough fallout
One of the inevitable consequences of the lack of football during the Covid-19 crisis has been an increasing focus on how the game conducts itself. The disproportionate and often feverish clamour for the sport to “do its bit” has resulted in a frequently hostile press. Much of this negative reaction stemmed from a number of clubs applying to join the government’s furlough scheme to pay non-playing staff. Prominent among them were Tottenham and Liverpool. While they were not the only Premier League teams to do so, their profile made them easy targets, and the damage was largely self-inflicted. That last season’s Champions League finalists – with their regular appearances in the elite money tables – were exploiting a scheme designed to protect smaller and needier businesses and their employees provided critics with stark images of football’s greed.
Season’s end Football’s family bonds
April 18 was supposed to be Swindon Town’s last home game, when the team were crowned League Two champions after a magnificent season. It was also supposed to be a day we paused to remember, as just before the kick-off the names of those supporters who’ve passed away during the year are read out. Each year is different, and each year is the same. It might be a meaningless mid-table meander, or maybe more significant; either way, within ten minutes I’m moaning about a throw-in here, or applauding a deft pass there. I’ve moved on from thanking my lucky stars that while I may know some of those names, none of them carry my surname.
Unlucky charm Missing your team’s wins
Whatever the official attendance claimed, there were fewer than 10,000 inside Deepdale on a chilly Tuesday night last December. Few of them can have celebrated Preston’s seat-grippingly tight ten-a-side win over an excellent Fulham as much as me. Sitting in the Town End, I reacted to each dramatic turning point with such inordinate emotion that I had to explain myself to the bloke next to me. I’d seen North End lose eight in a row, the last six without scoring. Even in the first two defeats our goals were injury-time consolations. He was baffled. “But we’ve won loads,” he said. Not the games I’ve been to. Eight games without a goal worth celebrating. And this for a decent team aiming for the play-offs. I was the curse. Folk around us got wind and suggested I leave. I think they were joking, but if John Beck had still been PNE manager he’d have got a pantomime gypsy back in to rid the place of my evil.
Treasure island Perfect pitch in Norway
Some of the newest football stadiums in the world are set against a dazzling backdrop of technology. Clubs try to outdo each other with such innovations as self-pouring beer, retractable pitches and gourmet food outlets. But with every advancement, the game of football is inching away from the everyday fan. On the coast of the Norwegian Sea is a ground whose beauty is in its sheer simplicity. Framed by rugged mountains and surrounded by crisp, blue waters, there is nothing complicated about it. There are no gaudy club emblems or large reflective windows. There are no corporate sponsorship logos or high-tech turnstiles. There isn’t even a stand. It’s just there for football and nothing else.
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Furlough illustration by Gary Neill; Swindon illustration by Jörn Kröger, Preston photo via Getty Images, Norway photo by Tobias Bjørkli/Pexels