I am certain that no one in football seriously envisaged when the two rounds of fixtures were suspended on 13 March that the next match would not take place for over three months. Yet here we are, celebrating the return of football but not as we knew it before.
In fact virtually everything about the football watching experience has changed, and it is a testament to people’s ability to adapt, and their fixation with football, that everyone is so excited by football’s return. Even the rules of the game have changed with extra players on the bench and additional subs allowed.
It is sobering to think, however, that while we and the other supporters of clubs in the Premier League and Championship can now look forward to watching nine further rounds of matches, supporters of nearly every other club in the Football League and below will have no opportunity to watch their club and no certainty when (or if) they will be watching them again.
Palace seem to have had a good COVID-19, if it is possible for there to be such a thing. All our players and staff complied with the lockdown rules, or if they did not, they had the good sense not to get caught which is more than can be said about some of our political leaders and their advisers!
The club have taken a variety of initiatives to help the NHS and the local community and have encouraged supporters to do their bit by donating to local charities, the Palace For Life Foundation or promoting some of the club’s usual food and other suppliers who as small businesses have struggled during the lockdown. The club also made sure they did the right thing by not furloughing and staff and continuing to pay the matchday casual staff despite there being no matches. Those are the sorts of actions that make people proud of the club they support and should not be forgotten.
Much as I am less of a fan of the Premier League itself, I do think the league has handled matters very well. From the quick decision to suspend the league on 13 March, despite the UK Government seeing no danger, to the careful and consensual way they have gone through the process of bringing football back, it is very difficult to find much fault. Given what we know now, the suspension of football on 13 March most likely will have saved thousands of lives, and that should be recognised. Not that the Government will be too keen to point this out. I am afraid to say that the Premier League could teach the UK Government a huge amount about how to handle the situation we all find ourselves in.
Footballers have generally also handled the past three months well. Okay, there has been the odd idiotic moment – step forward Messrs Grealish, Walker, Mourinho, Aurier etc. but the vast majority have behaved well. The various fund raising initiatives by the Premier League players collectively and individually has been fantastic to see and shows the good that football can achieve when it puts its mind to it. Personally one of my highlights was Andros Townsend sticking it right back at Matt Hancock when Hancock took at cheap shot at footballers not doing enough to help.
Although part of me feels it is wrong to be focusing on and celebrating the return of football when so many lives have been lost and so many livelihoods have been destroyed, we must find ways for life to return to normal and if football can do this safely for the players and all of the associated staff, then that must be a good thing.
Finally, we should think about matters on the pitch! I cannot tell you how grateful I am for those goals from Jordan Ayew and Patrick Van Aanholt in our last three matches. With 39 points we are effectively safe from relegation (although I will be desperate for the one win or even a draw which should make it a mathematical certainty) and I can view the restart of the season in relative calm. Were we to still be on 30 points, I would have been nervous from the day the Premier League announced the date for the restart of the season.
Even though we have a very difficult run in, if we do not pick up too many injuries, given our poor track record here, we could secure a comfortable top ten finish and maybe better than that. We have tended to finish seasons strongly under Roy and if we do that again, it may be an amazing June and July. Of course it feels wrong even thinking about Palace playing league football in June or July!
Although there is so much about the future which is not clear – when will next season start, when will it be safe to go into a pub, let alone a football ground, I am taking the view that we are lucky to have a club which we can be proud to support with matches to watch with no real fear of relegation.
I am planning on enjoying every minute. Well most of it – remember, it is Palace after all!