This may not have been the first time that football has been accused of being “far from popular sentiment”. It certainly wasn’t the last.
It was February 1952 and Britain was mourning the death of King George VI. Shops and factories closed, along with cinemas and theaters, as the country came to a standstill. The BBC has canceled all programming except for official newscasts and basic shipping forecasts.
Most sporting events have also been postponed, including the rugby union match between England and Ireland.
But football continued.
Stanley Ross, the FA secretary, has sent a letter to all clubs, suggesting that playing matches scheduled for this weekend provides an opportunity to pay tribute to playing “Your Father With Me”, followed by a minute’s silence and the national anthem. Ross said it would be “a simple but heartfelt tribute (…) to the memory of my late beloved.”
It is inevitable that some will feel resentment.
A search in the archives reveals a letter written by Gordon Clarke from London to The Times that week, who complained that “while rugby union football, racing, hunting, tracking and many other sports are all respectfully silent in the face of the nation’s grief, football clubs are advised By merely reviewing the external signs of sadness.
Mr. Clark went so far as to hope that “loyal citizens themselves would censure such conduct by turning away (…) and thus showing the entertainers how disconnected from popular sentiment they are”.
Football continued, respected in its own way.
The most eye-catching game in the league this weekend was the North London derby in which he participated Arsenal get over Tottenham Hotspur 2-1, but it says something about the era when The Times led its sports coverage with a report on Wimbledon’s victory over Corinthian Casuals in the third round of the FA Amateur Cup – “an uninspiring match in which skill played poorly before enthusiasm”, preceded by “a minute of silence”. Touching (…) in a simple homage to a king who loved the sport so well.”
How times have changed.
Seven decades later, after the death of Queen Elizabeth II on Thursday, UK stores will open today, theatrical performances continue (with preparations for theaters to dim their lights for two minutes at 7pm every evening as a show of respect) until rugby matches continue this weekend, as well as the half-marathon Great North Run that raises impressive amounts of money for charities and other good causes.
The opening of the cricket test match between England and South Africa at The Oval in south London on Friday was postponed, but play will begin on Saturday, with a minute of silence and the players and officials wearing black armbands.
Britain’s Horseracing Authority has announced that all meetings on Friday and Saturday have been postponed out of respect for the late Queen and her “unique and enduring association” with the sport, but the meetings (and honors) will take place on Sunday.
But football stopped itself. All matches scheduled for this weekend in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland It was canceled as a sign of respect.
After publishing national mourning guidelines, and consulting with government, other sports and rugby league stakeholders including clubs, the RFL can confirm that matches at all levels will go ahead this weekend.
Rugby Football League (TheRFL) September 9, 2022
This is not just a file Premier League resolution. This is the whole game, right down to the grassroots level, where, for example, volunteers in south London have expressed their dissatisfaction with the need to cancel the 30-team and more than 600 youth tournament.
It’s a curious position, and while there will be a range of opinions on the matter, the personal opinion is that the football authorities have gotten it wrong.
Not because it adds to the problem of growing crowding at the highest level but simply because if the national mood can be discerned at the moment, the “stop all hours” approach seems to contradict it.
As the Football Supporters Association (FSA) said in a statement Friday afternoon, “We believe that football is at its best when it brings people together at times of great national importance – whether it be moments of joy or moments of mourning. Our view, which we shared with the authorities Football, most fans would have liked to go to the matches this weekend and pay their respects to the Queen alongside their fellow fans.”
The FSF admitted there was “no perfect decision” for the football authorities to make. They know better than anyone that their members represent a diverse group with different views not only on the subject but on the broader question of property. But, he added, “many fans will feel this was a missed opportunity for football to pay its own tribute.”
This is exactly what the game did 70 years ago, playing and honoring George VI in its own way.
This makes it strange to take the opposite path now, at a time when society and sport seem more comfortable with the approach football took at the time.
Obviously, officials in the FA and the Premier League felt otherwise.
For one thing, they feel they would have been criticized no matter what decision they made – and they may be right. On the other hand, they noted that the Queen was a patron of the Football Association and that her grandson William is its president. The EFLThe statement referred to football as the “national sport”, implying that this gives a greater sense of duty.
It’s strange, though. The ‘national sport’ part is hard to reconcile when we weigh the difference between a test cricket match in which England face South Africa, a Commonwealth country, and a series of club-level football matches that are a domestic matter to a global television audience.
Is football thinking about that?
the athleteStaff Jack Pete-Brook wondered on Twitter if the game authorities had shown “a bit of a self-flagellation instinct,” that we can’t be seen playing on “something of a kind.” How dare we try to carry on as usual?”.
“He’s almost ascetic.”
Trying to think about how football got it wrong and out of the national mood. Is there some kind of self-flagellation instinct inside football here? “Can’t see we’re playing on” type the thing. “How dare we carry on with business as usual?” It is almost ascetic.
– JackPittBrooke September 9, 2022
This seems to be true, as if football is so desperately in need of being seen as doing the right thing that it struggles to figure out the right thing. Or perhaps he is just horrified that his product and brand are being rubbished by the kind of columnist or talk show host who might rush to name the Premier League as a patriotic degress to business as usual (never stop questioning his own decision to do the same).
There are plenty of practical questions for those affected by this weekend’s postponements: supporters who have booked their travel (not least from abroad) and those who may not be able to do so on a reordered date; Casual workers who are more dependent than ever on their daily income as the cost of living crisis deepens.
There are obvious questions about match crowding, too.
In this of all seasons, with the Premier League suspended between mid-November and December 26 to accommodate world Cup The Qatar Finals, and missing out on an entire program at the end of the week (and possibly a minor one a week from now, coinciding with the Queen’s funeral) will create chaos. For the 10 British clubs participating in the three European competitions, the calendar already looked seriously overcrowded.
It doesn’t look like that was a consideration here.
Nor should it be.
When it comes to a question of respect for others, it should be a matter of principle, not convenience. It was a mistake to continue reluctantly, on the grounds that their busy match schedule left them no alternative.
But playing the way British sports such as cricket, rugby (federation and league) and ice hockey will be played today – and even the Queen’s beloved horse racing will do tomorrow – feels right.
If society continues as usual, from stores to factories to theaters, you might imagine football would feel comfortable doing the same.
It felt like an opportunity. We got a glimpse of it at West Ham United teamThe Europa Conference League game against visiting Romanian FCSB Thursday night, barely an hour after her departure was announced, as a minute of silence before the match preceded a spontaneous performance of God Save The Queen and an eruption of applause.
In honor of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II at the London Stadium tonight. pic.twitter.com/Ef2jE50h0S
– West Ham United (@WestHam) September 8, 2022
Not every fan base in England – or indeed in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – will claim to rival West Ham when it comes to royal sentiment, but this was a solid and purposeful display of respect.
It would have been widely replicated this weekend, as hundreds of thousands of people gathered, from one end of the UK to the other, to commemorate Elizabeth II just as football fans were invited to pay their respects to her father 70 years ago.
It looks like a missed opportunity.
(Top image: Zac Goodwin/PA Images via Getty Images)