Covering football during a pandemic
By Ciarán Mcloughlin
In June 2020, the news which many football fans had been waiting three months for was finally confirmed, as football made its long awaited return.
People were being treated to football games left, right and centre, as broadcasters rushed to complete the 2019/2020 season. I too was one of those fans thrilled to see football back on my television, but by the end of September I was given a privileged opportunity to attend games again.
While the Premier League enjoyed its return, the same couldn’t be said for the lower leagues, including the National League, which had been on hold since the country went into lockdown. But the return was marked in for October and I would be lucky enough to be there.
I had gained a role with the media team at Barnet Football Club and on the 3rd October 2020, I was back covering my first game of live football since March and it was certainly different to say the least.
Before gaining this role, I had been to games at the Hive before and the atmosphere was always one to be admired.
But this time the sea of orange and black which would usually greet you upon arriving at the ground wasn’t present, the gathering of fans in the Hive Bar wasn’t there and the general noise of a match day was silent.
Walking into the ground was an entirely different process, wearing a mask and having a temperature checker pointed at my head as I was then pointed to my designated seat for Barnet media staff separated from any of my fellow journalists.
My last outing as an accredited journalist was with Dagenham & Redbridge’s media team back in March and even when I was arriving early, the crowds would be building, so as I was watching Barnet and Eastleigh’s players warm up without a single person present it really hit home what a new experience this was.
The expected buzz from the stands to meet the referee’s whistle as a brand new season got under way never appeared. It felt eerie.
Action on the pitch didn’t change much, with the only difference being the muted celebrations from the players and media staff when a goal went in, compared to the uproar which would have followed if fans were there to witness Wes Fonguck bring the sides level just before half time.
The large crowds which would usually walk together towards Canons Park weren’t there to lead the way, as I struck a solitary figure on the path towards the station.
This absence of fans however has offered a new perspective into watching a game of football.
My position in the press area means I am already very close to the dugout and the pitch. But without the background chanting from the fans, it allows for every little word shouted by managers and players alike to be heard with clarity as if I was in the middle of the action. A very interesting insight.
The sheer emptiness is summed up whenever I sit in the gantry area, which is at the top of the Legend’s Stand, as I look across the stadium before a game. As each game has gone by, I have slowly got used to this new way of reporting, but the feeling as I step into an empty ground will never feel right.
Despite the work which I’m expected to produce not changing, the ambience as I create it, certainly has.
Football is nothing without the fans and the added encouragement from the players when they were briefly allowed back into stadiums in December emphasised this and the time without them has just not been the same. We can only wait and hope that the day we return to normality and welcome fans back fully is soon.