‘Football gives us reasons to smile during latest lockdown’

Jack Kavanagh on why it’s vital sport is allowed to continue during restrictions

Reviewing the state of the world with the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, strange things are happening.

One of the most troubling of these developments finds me agreeing with Karren Brady. 

It’s not often we see eye to eye, but her recent support for continuing elite sport during the latest Coronavirus lockdown finds me in her camp.

Writing in her column in The Sun, Brady outlined the benefits of continuing elite sport arguing that it is essential to the mental health of the nation. She said: ‘I’m really happy that football has been given the green light to carry on.’

Compared to the first lockdown, one of the most bearable things about life at the moment comes in the normality of having live sport back. 

With each subsequent lockdown and the lack of novelty that comes with it, sport provides a lifeline and sense of normality. 

It is difficult to bear another summer of watching classic sport replays. 

Brady continued: ‘OK, there have been lapses at clubs — including my own — but the good news is that football is still being played, allowing us all to have something to cherish during these difficult winter months.’

‘There has been criticism that the games have come too thick and fast but people should understand the fixture list is so congested because the league has to finish in time for the scheduled European Championships in June. There simply isn’t space in the calendar for any lengthy postponement of fixtures.’

From a fan’s perspective, the sheer amount of football we can gorge on has been fantastic.

With so many games spread out during the week and weekend, the season has had that chaotic feeling of the traditional congested Christmas period, ideal for marathon viewings. 

It’s a refreshing slice of normality to be able to escape from the depressing news and open the back pages of the newspaper and avoid reality. 

We’ve been treated to some crazy score lines this season. It will be a long time before we forget West Ham’s glorious 3-0 win against Leicester being immediately overshadowed by Tottenham beating Manchester United 6-1 and the champions Liverpool, receiving a 7-2 humbling from Aston Villa.

Brady continued: ‘Now there are those who may argue that football and other sports should also be locked down but I would counter that with two factors. Allowing elite sports to carry on is good for the nation’s health — and boy, do we need that right now.

‘Also, sportsmen and women have been extremely professional in following the Covid guidelines and, as such, they are clearly not putting any further strain on the NHS.

‘These are grim times as winter has set in and this blasted coronavirus just refuses to go away.

‘When Lockdown 1.0 happened at the end of March, the sun was shining, spring was blooming and it felt very different. We now know what we are dealing with and it is very nasty.’

There has been criticism of keeping football going, especially with the rule breaching players we’ve seen splashed across the hysterical front pages of the tabloids. 

Two months ago Manuel Lanzini was photographed at a Christmas party with Erik Lamela, Segio Reguilon and Giovanni Lo Celso. 

However, these breaches have been in the minority, there are around 4,000 footballers in the UK and we can count the number of Covid breaches recently on one hand. 

It has been called unfair to have the game continue while schools, bars and restaurants have been forced to close, but in this era of concern over mental health, it is doing an untold amount of good to have the sports fans of the nation to have something positive to focus their energy and passions towards. 

If anything this pandemic has highlighted just how trivial, yet important 90 minutes of football is.

The crazy, eventful season gives us something to get through the bleak winter, with some joy, like seeing Southampton lose 9-0, again. 

These are the non-Covid talking points that football fans need during these bleak times.

Brady continued: ‘But I think common sense has prevailed both north and south of the border with English and Scottish football continuing.

‘True, we are treating elite sports as a special case but surely there has to be some give and take in these dark days.

‘Football allows us to dream. It makes us laugh and cry. It makes us feel alive as we support our teams, albeit from the comfort of the sofa in front of the TV.

‘At least during Lockdown 3.0 we can enjoy a little semblance of normality. For 90 minutes our hopes and fears over Covid-19 can take a back seat.’

The cynic would point to Brady’s support of continuing football as motivated by the financial need to keep West Ham Football Club generating income.

There would be a degree of that, but more important is giving people a distraction during these bleak times of endless vaccine discussions and seemingly never-ending mutations to the virus.

Football is what we all love, and despite never being able to recreate the matchday experience in person, every fan essentially has a season ticket this season.

The game is more accessible than ever and has given the fans something to enjoy during these strange and uncertain times. 

And with West Ham actually doing well, football is giving us a much-needed reason to smile.

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