17th June 2020
Ah, the Premier League (and football in the UK) is back! In another sign that life is gradually getting back to "normal" after the Covid, English football's top league returns with a couple of midweek evening fixtures.
Despite the season being three-quarters done already, it feels like a new season and with this comes a corresponding surge in enthusiasm for Fantasy Premier League. And so, the afternoon sees a final alteration of my FPL team before the 5pm deadline. I also try to get some fellow FPL-ing friends to join a private league in which only points scored from now on count in a bid to give the remaining fixtures more significance.
Considering the anticipation for the return of the new/old season it's a shame that the winner of the league has already been effectively decided, with Liverpool 25 points ahead of 2nd place Man City. A contested title race would have made the rest of the season quite a bit more exciting but I’m just thankful though to be getting some live football to watch, having had to make do with re-runs of Euro 96, Match of the Day Top 10s, and reliving Blackburn Rovers’ past glories on YouTube (as live). I’m even more glad considering the doubt the completion of the season was in at several points in the lockdown, and indeed many other leagues, like in Scotland and lower leagues in England, have called an end to their standings as is. To be fair, there is still plenty to play for in the Premier League with relegation and European places yet to be decided. England’s second league, the Championship, too has been given the go ahead to resume the season starting this weekend.
As I sit down with my dad to watch the first live football match I’ve seen in several months, there are a few time-appropriate matters to address: the first, a minute's silence for the victims of the Covid with all the players suitably distanced around the centre circle, and then as the starting whistle blows, all the players, each with “Black Lives Matter” on the back of their shirts in place of their names, along with the referees and coaching staff, take a knee for 8 seconds in a powerful statement of the game’s support for the movement.
Considering the early midweek kick-off and playing at a time of the year when the only football on usually is of an international nature, it feels like it ought to be the beginning of a World Cup-like summer bonanza of football. I guess all those expecting something like this would eventually be slightly disappointed in a bore nil-nil draw between Aston Villa and Sheffield United. There being no crowd (and therefore no background noise) makes it all initially feel quite eerie too. Something like normal proceedings resume though with an instant return of bizarre refereeing decisions. In the first half, the ball appears to almost definitely cross the line and it should result in a Sheffield United goal. However, the referee’s watch (connected to the goal line hawk-eye) doesn’t buzz and so he presumes the ball has not crossed the line. The ensuing controversy helps make the Premier League’s return all the more routine.
The second game of Wednesday produced a few more goals in what became a comfortable win for Manchester City over Arsenal. It was altogether great to see live football return to the UK and a sign of the country getting back on its feet after a terrible past few months. For me though, football’s grand return won’t truly be here until Saturday when Blackburn begin again their attempt at an unlikely run into the play-offs.