The Premier League is finally about to kick off again in an effort to complete the season. There has been plenty of discussion about Project Restart among media, players, managers and owners but what do the fans think?
We face the remainder of the season and much of next without what makes the game what it is – fans in grounds supporting their team. It will be very different in stadiums up and down the country, so we reached out to a few fan groups as we were genuinely interested to here their opinions, seeing as hardly any of us have already been asked.
ARSENAL – Gay Gooners
The restart comes with a mixed bag of emotions. I’m looking forward to having Premier League football to watch but from an Arsenal perspective we’re obviously being thrown straight back into the deep end starting at City away. Form from 3 months ago surely can’t count for anything at this stage and it will be interesting to see how much home advantage has an impact without any home support, but I’m still filled with the dread I’m normally filled with when it comes to City away. I’ve been watching a few La Liga and Bundesliga matches and have found it far easier to concentrate when the broadcaster plays some sort of crowd noise over the broadcast, but my overwhelming feeling has been that I’m longing for the day when we are all allowed back into the grounds safely.
BOURNEMOUTH – Hensmanian
Twenty-four years ago, Des Lynam opened the coverage of the Euro 96 semi-final with these words “Hello again, glad you’ve tuned in, you’ve obviously heard that there’s a football match on today”, as our game is live on the BBC, it seems appropriate to use them again for the restart of the Premier League and our upcoming fixture.
So, welcome back for a mad month of football and the final games of the 2019-20 season, I don’t know about all you Palace fans, but I have not really missed football these past three months, my head’s been turned by the world news, it’s all been a little chaotic hasn’t it? It’s great though to have something back, and to look forward to a month of back to back games, I’ll admit to being excited for the glut of football to come.
The Cherries are in the bottom three and have three of the big five to play before the season ends. Whilst we’re not adrift, we do need every point we can get in every game to stay up this year, starting with you. I’ve supported the Cherries for almost 35 years, and over that time most of the games between us have been high scoring, so I’m hoping for a classic Sunday morning (my time). We’ll be strengthened by a handful of returning injured players with our inspirational captain (Steve Cook), and David Brookes (who’s been out all season) strengthening the starting 11. I’m expecting teams to take a couple of games to get up to match sharpness, but I’m hoping we can get off to a good start in the first three games, before we face Manchester United, Tottenham, Leicester and Man City in the next four.
Fingers crossed, we’ve got enough to stay up this year, but I fear it’s going to be a last day of the season decider, I think Palace are pretty much safe, so it’s going to be a weird end of season for you just completing the fixtures, it’ll be interesting to see if any of your younger players get a run out, I’d send the older pros off for a long break ready to start again next year. Anyway, lets hope for a classic ding dong on the south coast this weekend. I predict a 3-3 draw, with a last minute equalizer for Bournemouth (and some VAR controversy!)
BRIGHTON & HOVE ALBION – Albion Roar
There have been many arguments about whether football should hold itself above the rest of society where many of us cannot return to our workplaces and when you can measure the death toll in bigger and bigger full football stadiums, it has to be questioned. But, the powers that be have dictated that the Premier League and Championship will have their conclusion.
There has been lots of talk about the integrity of the competition but any chance of a level playing field has long since passed. This has been the longest break that any of the players will have had in their entire careers, injuries have healed, winning or losing momentum has been lost and rules have been changed. Playing in empty stadiums is also going to have a massive impact.
Speaking to some Watford fans, they are still buzzing off a full Vicarage Road cheering their team to victory over a peerless Liverpool. The highlight of Norwich’s season will have been a full Carrow Road celebrating beating the champions Manchester City. Brightons last nine games include Arsenal, United, Liverpool and City visiting the Amex. These are all games where having the 12th man could make all the difference and could make or break our season. That said, prior to lockdown we were showing signs that ‘Potterball’ was beginning to work and the break could have helped and we have done well against sides that want to attack us.
The restart was never going to be perfect and whilst I am not entirely comfortable with the return, we are going to have to embrace it.
MANCHESTER CITY – Typical City
To be honest, I’m not really looking forward to it that much. The football has been off for just long enough for my brain to get used to not having it, especially given that we won’t even be going to the games. It has been a strange recognition, but truthfully I could take it or leave it right now. The idea of football without fans is un-natural, so a selfish part of me hopes it all goes a bit wrong, otherwise I’d be concerned that the stock of match-going fans will fall even further in the eyes of the money men at Sky and the FA.
More widely, I’m hoping that the football pyramid doesn’t go bankrupt. Being a City fan is pretty easy in recent years, but there’s a whole game to worry about too and the noises coming out of the lower leagues are bad. If they go, the Premier League will suffer for it too.
Regarding how City will do…it’s hard to say. Presumably quite well. With the players we have there’s a baseline of how badly they can realistically do. The Champions League is the big one for the lads I suspect, they’ll want to round out their trophy cabinets. I don’t care the for competition overly myself, but it would be a good novelty to win it, particularly for David Silva – a man who deserves everything. What’s more, it would also would be quite funny to do so as we get banned. The league is gone obviously, so I’d hope to see the Bald Wizard use the time to get the younger lads playing. And also I want to see as much of Leroy Sané as possible before he leaves. He’s a magical player.
MANCHESTER UNITED – The Busby Babe
I have a few reservations about restarting the season, but I’ve certainly missed watching football. I’m absolutely looking forward to watching Manchester United again, but it will be a different experience.
For the most part, I’m concerned about exposing players and club staff to the virus unnecessarily. We’ve already seen a handful of cases come out from the first several tests in England, and some scares over its spread during friendlies and training sessions. However the cases are just that so far, a handful. A couple cases out of over 1000 tests isn’t terrible, but there is still a risk. You would just hope that every precaution is being taken by the league to protect its personnel.
Another hang up is from an entertainment perspective. The presence of fans and stadium atmosphere is definitely part of the football aesthetic, and watching Bundesliga matches with empty stadiums has been a bit eerie. Artificial fan noise pumped in can aid a live broadcasts, but is still weird in its own way producing a crowd reaction in real time with empty stands. Even the actual football may be affected by this, and the absence of fan support in the English game will be interesting to see play out. Of course the game is much more profit-driven now, and finishing the season is probably necessary for the survival of several clubs that wouldn’t have been bailed out. I still enjoy the sport regardless, it’s just better with fans.
Overall, I think it should go fine. A second wave wouldn’t be caused by footballers spreading it, and if anything the leagues seem to be taking more precautions than the actual government is right now. There is still a risk as everything else continues to open back up, but I think football will be good to give us something to do when we’re all (supposed to be at least) at home, and it will also give me something to write about again. For United in particular it’s an exciting time. They’ll get Marcus Rashford and Paul Pogba back to play alongside Bruno Fernandes and Anthony Martial. They’ve also still got a shot to win two trophies, the FA Cup and the Europa League, and were on a tear just before football activities were suspended. Hopefully they can give us something to smile about on the pitch.
NEWCASTLE UNITED – Jake Jackman
Anyone would be lying if they said that they are not excited for the return of the Premier League. Although it will not be as good without supporters in stadiums, it will be a lot better than no action at all. In terms of Newcastle, there is not a great deal left to play for, but it will be nice to watch the team try to secure survival with a couple more wins and there is the small matter of an FA Cup quarter final. The health worries are there, but the Premier League seems well prepared and the testing results have been encouraging. Although I would expect them to finish the season, I would be surprised if there were not a few scares along the way.
SHEFFIELD UNITED – Blades Pod
I’m extremely excited to have football back in my life – aside from the resumption of one of the most enjoyable Sheffield United seasons in living memory, it’s also an important distraction/ morale booster from everything else that’s going on. The obvious proviso is “as long as it’s safe” – but there have been encouraging signs with all the other major leagues around Europe (bar France) resuming, and it does seem like all measures are in place to make it as safe as possible for players and staff. It is of course going to be strange watching games without fans, but if there’s one thing these 100 days have taught me, it’s that football without fans is much better than no football at all. Actually getting back to football with crowds will be a hell of a thing, although it naturally feels a long, long way off at this point. So, I’ll take what I can get.
As for the Blades themselves, all the noises coming out of the club are of a set of players and management who are raring to go. We have absolutely nothing to lose given that we’re safe – which was our primary goal for the season – but so much to potentially gain in terms of European qualification. Sheffield United, European qualification. It sounds insane – and I know a few giddy Blades that got odds of 500/1 on a top four finish at the start of the season – but it is actually possible. Win our opening game in hand and we go 5th, a few points behind Chelsea. We do have a tough run-in, but that also gives us an opportunity. And should we drop off, we essentially have a “mini season” in which to try some new things and iron out any potential kinks ahead of the off-season proper. Bring it on.
SOUTHAMPTON – St Marys Musings
From a personal perspective, my investment level is quite low. It has been four months since a ball was kicked and I have moved on past football for the season. I hope when it actually kicks off that will change. I think Southampton will be fine. Our run in is quite helpful so from that standpoint, we will hopefully be able to build to a bit of momentum early and gain some confidence. I also do not want NHS tributes like “ohhhhh thank the NHS” because we all know the only reason football is back is because of the money.
TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR – Kevin DeVries
I’m absolutely delighted that the Premier League is returning! There will be a lot of odd moments and images that come from the restart, but having the Premier League back is well worth any oddities that may crop up.
As for Tottenham, the league restarting was the best option bar the briefly contemplated “null and void” variant. With Kane, Son, Bergwijn, Sissoko, etc. all back and fit for the run-in, which they wouldn’t have been without the pause in the season, there’s hope that we can push back up the table and into the European spots.
As delighted as I am that we will be getting the Premier League back, there are obviously still some concerns. Many of the guidelines for Project Restart seem difficult to encourage or enforce, but I’m more concerned that a Norwich player was able to make it onto the pitch for their friendly against Tottenham last Friday. Fortunately, all of the Tottenham players have tested negative since that match, but if another player with the virus makes it into a match and does infect players from another team, this whole Project Restart idea, and the Premier League season in general, could come to an abrupt end.
Despite that pretty major concern, I think it’s more likely that the Premier League get it right than not. The Bundesliga has set an excellent example for other leagues to follow and, though the public infection rates aren’t nearly as low as Germany’s, the low-level of positive tests done over the past few weeks is certainly encouraging. Is it going to be weird hearing sounds from the FIFA video game series while players celebrate at a distance in front of empty stands? Obviously, but that seems a small price to play to have Tottenham and the Premier League back.
WATFORD – The Hornets Nest
As the Premier League nears its resumption it’s been great to have that excitement of all the pre-match build up in my life again. Whilst I still have my reservations about the league restarting under a different set of circumstances to how the previous 29 games were played, it will be great to feel some sort of normality again. I can of course completely understand why the game needs to return behind closed doors, what worries me about this however is the impact this will have on the home advantage. We’ve seen since the Bundesliga restarted a dramatic decrease in the number of home wins when matches were played behind closed doors.
A favourable run-in for Watford consisting of home fixtures against Newcastle, Norwich and Southampton; the home advantage could have been the extra boost we needed to drag ourselves over the line. With that in mind I am all for clubs trying to replicate the matchday atmosphere and use cardboard fans; anything that will make it feel more like a competitive game and not a pre-season friendly is better than nothing.
Throughout the lockdown I have been immensely proud of how the club has responded to assist the community. Watford opened up Vicarage Road to the NHS workers at the hospital next door, provided over 1,000 free meals a day to staff, allowed unlimited use of laundry facilities to wash scrubs, provided rooms for meetings, counselling and beds for night shift workers and offered spaces for midwives to carry out health checks on newborns away from the hospital. Players past and present have also called elderly and disabled supporters to check in on anyone who may be feeling lonely. It has also been great to see the likes of Nigel Pearson, Christian Kabasele and especially Troy Deeney speak their minds about Project Restart and not be radio silenced like many footballers are. I think football needs people like Troy Deeney, someone who isn’t afraid to say it how it is, who had genuine concerns about Project Restart and questions about the impact of the virus on BAME athletes that he felt were left unanswered. We need players to speak up sometimes.
Overall, I’m a little apprehensive about the season resuming, but with the quality in our squad and a favourable run-in I am confident of Watford narrowly avoiding the drop. Should we drop down into the Championship however I’d be okay with that; this recent period has shown that football really is insignificant in the grand scheme of things