Michael O’Neill revolution without fans is a kick in the guts



Stoke City are preparing to update fans on season tickets and returning to the bet365 Stadium tomorrow.

But they are likely to be scooped by the Government, with Michael Gove telling the BBC this morning that ministers are “looking how to pause” the programme of a staged return, citing the criticism they received when Liverpool played in the Champions League back in March just before lockdown and Cheltenham Festival went ahead.

The Government is apparently asking sports chiefs what the impact will be of having closed stadia for several more months.

What a blow.

Stoke had been praised for their innovative 11-game season ticket plan as a short-term fix for demand significantly outstripping supply. Test events had seemingly worked well across the country and non-league clubs have been able to welcome back spectators with social distancing measures in place.

In Germany, six out of nine Bundesliga clubs welcomed back home fans at the weekend, ranging from 4,600 to 9,300.

There is the huge financial cost: Stoke are losing out on about £255,000 every time they stage a game behind closed doors at the bet365 Stadium.

It is no small mercy that they are backed by the Coates family, the Stoke-supporting joint-chairmen with deep pockets.

But how many other clubs can survive such a kick in the unmentionables? There is an urgent need for assistance from top – it is claimed the Premier League says £100m is being lost across the game per month – to bottom.

Then there is the football itself.

Behind closed doors games are weird. It is strange being one of the privileged few there, watching Stoke pull clear of relegation trouble in a dramatic end to last season or starting this one with new hope.

As a short-term fix, people might accept it. How long can short-term be? How will history remember these ghost seasons without celebrations or anger in the stands?

Michael O’Neill has been turning Stoke around over the last few months.

It is no mean feat to have a thread on the Oatcake messageboard recently asking if he can eventually be as popular as Lou Macari, still perhaps the most universally loved manager in Stoke’s modern history.

Thank goodness for live streams but there is no replacement for the rollercoaster of being there. Even having 9,000, 6,000 or 1,000 would have been so much better than no one.

Roll on the vaccine.





Source link

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *