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A Different League

Empty Seats

By Matty LongPublished 4 months ago 5 min read

I need not remind anyone of what happened in 2020 when the world turned upside down. Stuck in our homes, one hour of exercise a day, endless Zoom meetings, endless stress and inability to find income for countless working people, and no knowledge of what would happen next. It truly was a historical time period for all the wrong reasons, and I'm sure many will agree that we very much appear to be in a colossal hangover period from it.

For football fans, it also, of course, meant a sudden absence of their favourite sport. I remember it well, as it wasn't long after we'd made it to the quarter finals of the FA cup. We were joking about COVID on the way there as we observed other drunken Geordies eating sausage rolls off the floor, musing that they wouldn't exactly stand a chance against it.

But, all joking aside, football is a release for many working people from the pains of the real world. Norwich City FC released a very moving video last year which demonstrated this:

When football came back, it was, very strangely, taking place behind closed doors (still “psychologically so important for us all” one American-based fan noted). Even though I usually watch on TV now, I remember it being very odd watching empty stadiums. I think the spectator aspect of football is what allows that real release. For some people, it's all they have. So I was interested to know how football, or specifically fans, disappearing, on top of the great stresses caused by lockdown in the first place, affected people:

“Covid took away the union of fans and the collective support that is integral to following any team but particularly NUFC. So much enjoyment comes from the shared communion and highs and lows of collectively following our team. This was lost during the closed games.”

“If anything it made me see how much of a space football has in my life during the time we had nothing to follow.”

For Sunderland fans, they had to wait longer. Some who just enjoy football generally said similar comments as above. Another told me that even though he usually just follows Sunderland, he did try big games to keep his interest:

“I think like everyone else I missed live crowds - it just didn't seem like the same game when there were no live crowds. The season being derailed halfway through also affected my interest in football. I tend to follow Sunderland and am slightly indifferent towards other leagues, so when League 1 was cancelled I sort of didn't bother with football until there were big matches on (derbys, etc.).”

Obviously for fans within this football-rich North East, something very important was taken away. Entirely for some.

I find it interesting that the closed doors actually worked wonders for Newcastle United for a time. I said at the time, as did a few others, that Joelinton scored his first league goal in ages because he wasn't listening to 52,000 fans bemoaning his efforts? Is that a fair criticism of football fans maybe? That, in taking out their frustrations, they can be overly cruel. It is one of the many reasons I couldn't be a professional athlete personally (the main reason being total ineptitude at most sports). It's food for thought when you consider football fans in general. Harry Maguire's mother spoke out about the abuse he received from England fans taking it too far last year, for example. However, although one might argue that England fans represent a microcosm of all fans, I would argue that England games always feature a certain fringe who are abusive in all instances. And, besides, Harry Maguire doesn't play for a North East club.

Joelinton took it in his stead when he was reinvented as a player, something a lot of the people I asked pointed out when giving their opinion on him, to build upon what I mentioned in the last entry:

“A man reborn. Frustratingly underwhelming under Rafa and Bruce, then cleverly repositioned and given a new lease of life by the maestro that is Eddie Howe. We as Newcastle fans pride ourselves on the attitude that it doesn’t matter if you’re not performing so long as you’re working at your maximum every game and sadly, I feel as though Joelinton embodies evidence for the opposite. There is no doubt he’s always worked hard but has been in the past berated by large groups of fans and, I’ll admit, I’ve found him very irritating in the past too. But now, he’s a battering ram, a behemoth, a bludgeoning Brazilian that represents the very best of the current squad. Fights for his team, grafts his bollocks off, and gets results. He seems to be a real gent off the pitch too, has done a lot for Newcastle’s charities.”

I think a lot of people always did see his effort mind, and I often thought that at the time – he is widely accepted as a result of Bruce mismanagement and always had a “grafter, blue collar play style.”

“I love Joelinton. He is my favourite current player. His physicality, his energy, his level of skill and strength. I honestly thought he always had potential even during the bleakest days as a striker under Bruce. His redemption is symbolic of the club’s renaissance under Howe and the new owners. Joelinton is an absolute powerhouse and on his day no other midfielder can live with him.”

I think Joelinton himself must have realised that this is part of the fandom, it isn't personal. Abuse isn’t acceptable, and as I discussed in my entry about the derby, I think most fans would call it out.

Thinking back to the Newcastle-Sunderland rivalry, considering that Jordan Pickford is the worst mackem bastard going when he's playing in the league, but we were all cheering him on in 2018 when he was an England hero, I certainly remember. Well, not all of us… :

“I’ve never been able to get into international football because you’re asking me to support players who I scream at in the league every weekend. I’d be much more excited for Newcastle being on a good cup run any day

….

Horrible Mackem c**t.”

But that's a different matter. As I write this, Newcastle have been in a Financial Fair Play nightmare. There was talk of interest from clubs in the Saudi league, where Allan Saint-Maximan went. One time Sunderland hero Jordan Henderson, interestingly enough, has just changed his mind about that league. There are all sorts of potential reasons as to why, but I know one that has been floated, and one that may be the case, is that many of these games are played in very empty stadiums. A former North East player and fan would probably miss that.

At Newcastle, there’s also talk of the potential of a certain Joelinton leaving in summer. I’m just imagining telling a fan in 2019 how gutted they would be about that five years later!

Nonfiction

About the Creator

Matty Long

Jack of all trades, master of watching movies. Also particularly fond of pizza, country music, watching football, travelling, and tea.

X: @eardstapa_

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Comments (1)

  • Randy Wayne Jellison-Knock4 months ago

    Quite interesting, Matty.

Matty LongWritten by Matty Long

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