Watered-down version of football for Stoke City and Premier League is better than no football at all


It feels surreal to be moving towards getting a version of football back.

It’s laced with dangers and things we wouldn’t even think about in normal times – but, yes, it was refreshing and enjoyable at the weekend to be waking up and having some Bundesliga to watch.

It was easy to point at things Bundesliga wasn’t, in terms of atmosphere and fans, but it was nice to get the game back. We will have to appreciate sport in a slightly different way but this might be the new normal until we can have a vaccine which lets 50,000 people into a stadium.

A watered down version of football is better than no football at all.

It was strange to see some of the natural instincts being restrained. It’s not just the balls and the corner flags being sanitised but the whole thing in a lot of respects.

It’s difficult and different not being able to jump on your mate when he scores. We all know the joy and pain of scoring or seeing a goal, whether it’s in the Premier League or Sunday league and it does take something away when you have to think about how to, or not, celebrate.

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There are the big tackles, the banter and the squaring up that have made the game so popular just don’t seem like they have a place at the moment.

But having had six, seven or eight weeks of nothing, we’ve got to appreciate what we get.

The news from the Premier League is in some ways a juxtaposition. It’s encouraging that of 748 tests, only six came back positive – but that’s still six lives being affected.

I can understand the scepticism of some players about whether this is the right time to come back and questioning the safety.

It’s easy to sit on the sidelines and say let’s get playing but everyone’s personal circumstances are different.

You can appreciate a case like Troy Deeney, who has a five-month-old son with breathing difficulties and is going into Watford where there have been three positive tests.

He has asked questions about the dangers facing black and Asian ethnic minorities. It’s not something that has been explained by science but there is a higher risk. The answers he receives are important.

To be honest, I don’t think there’s been good enough communication between players and the people making the decisions, whether that’s the Premier League or the government. It feels like the players are the last to hear when they should have been part of the conversations.

Changing rooms are full of different characters and for every one that says, ‘The doc says it’s ok so I’ll play,’ there will be another who will have pertinent questions.

Will there be more screening of black or Asian players? What happens to a squad if an opposition player tests positive after a game?

There are millions of things that need to considered and covered before the first whistle is blown.

But there seems to be a will and, no matter how complicated, there seems to be progress.

Hopefully that trickles down to the Championship, then down the pyramid as we try to organise football in these strange times.

It must be tricky for Stoke players who have been stuck in this limbo over the last few weeks, knowing that if the game does return then they have nine huge fixtures to make sure they keep the club in the Championship.

There are other sides who will have players coming back from running on a treadmill in their garage to playing with so much at stake; whether it’s for relegation or promotion or Europe.

For more than two months everyone has been told they are not allowed to see parents or get a haircut yet it’ll be ok to prepare to play with 21 other people plus the referees and staff.

The mental health side of that shouldn’t be underestimated and, in mental health awareness week, it’s encouraging that it is recognised more than in the past.

I know the PFA have been handling a lot of calls from players who want more information and have been struggling with considering worst case scenarios. It’s tough and let’s hope that everyone gets the support they need.

Finally, how refreshing to see Carol Shanahan and Port Vale make a decision for the good of the game and their division as opposed to purely for the club.

It’s been such a positive season for Vale and had play stopped a week earlier they would have been in the play-offs – but they voted to curtail 2019/20 because that might save rivals from going under.

Every industry is facing a crisis and that kind of mentality – to think about the bigger picture – will be vital as we continue into the unknown.





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