A recent quote from a pre-match interview with Roy Hodgson (I think it was Chelsea but the matches have all blurred into one) has nicely summed up my feelings about post lockdown football.
When asked what his ambition was for the rest of the season was, Roy, as honest as he always is, said to finish it. Not to win the rest of our matches, not to put in some strong performances, or anything else – just to get it finished.
I am sure Roy’s critics, who seem to be growing by the day, would leap on this as evidence of why he should no longer be our manager. No ambition, no creativity, not seeing the great opportunity to “play the kids”, too cautious, etc.etc. Well I am afraid I am with Roy – I can see no positives from lockdown football, other than to “get it done” so the Premier League clubs can collect their broadcasting money and start to plan for when we can get back to normal. I have no doubt that we will get back to normal (or something approximating normal) – I just don’t know when that will happen.
My loathing of lockdown football has many causes, although I would be the first to admit that if we had continued our pre lockdown form I would be loving it!
Given the lack of strength and depth in our squad and our lack of goal scoring options, Roy has worked another miracle over the course of our season but all of the weaknesses, which Roy and Ray have largely papered over this season, have been thrown into sharp relief by the number and frequency of matches in June and July. An aging, small squad combined with a really tough run in has proved a bridge too far for a group of players who have worked incredibly hard all season and had overachieved to get to 39 points by early March.
Much as I think Roy has been amazing for us and we will all bitterly regret when he does retire, he is not perfect, and I don’t think the intensity of the fixture schedule suits his methods. Roy needs time for his tactics and structures to bed in and the frequency of the matches, combined with the number of injured players which are now mounting up means there has been a lot of chopping and changing which does not play to Roy’s strengths.
I had tried to approach the prospect of watching our matches on television with an open mind, but with every match (okay, does not help they are all losses) I dislike the whole experience more and more. I do recognise that for many Palace supporters (probably not as many as Manchester United or Liverpool supporters of course!) television is the only way they can watch our matches most or all of the time so this is a very privileged moan. However, the lack of or fake atmosphere and the big club bias of all of the pundits and commentators (with the honuorable exception of Clinton Morrison) gets a little wearing.
The loss of the whole match day experience is unavoidable at the moment but also has become harder with every match we have played. No meeting up with friends and family pre-match, no visits to the pub and in my case no away trips have diminished my enjoyment of the matches themselves. I have joined some supporter Zoom groups to watch some of the matches, which have been good but it so no substitute for the shared experience of being together for the match and then dissecting it afterwards. The fact that every match has to be viewed through the prism of the big broadcasters and their commentators has removed for me much of the connection with the club and my fellow supporters. I do recognise that my grumpiness about lockdown football would largely disappear if we were winning lots of matches!
The fact that this situation is temporary (although for how long who knows) has definitely helped me put up with the bizarre situation we are in. That does lead me to start to think about next season and what that will be like. Although nothing is certain yet, my guess is next season which will probably start in mid September will be much like now – behind closed doors, more frequent matches since we will be starting a month later than normal, and five substitutes (which helps the big clubs far more than it helps the likes of Palace).
I am hoping that Steve Parish & Co have recognised that some things are going to have to change fairly quickly if we are to avoid starting next season like we have ended this season. First of all, we need to keep Roy and Ray in charge assuming they are happy to carry on. Given the right players and circumstances Roy will adapt better to the changed environment. After all, he will not have had the long and successful career he has had if he could not adapt to changing circumstances. Despite all the social media frenzy we would be mad to discard our most successful Premier League manager now.
As long as we can bring in some new and hopefully younger players in the transfer window, I hope our post lockdown form will be just an aberration consistent with the strange times we are living through now. Otherwise we could be in trouble next season, regardless of the format.