IAN LADYMAN: Football comes first… not the fans

IAN LADYMAN: Football comes first… not the fans. The sport is under pressure to survive but clubs are doing everything they can to get supporters back into grounds across the country

  • Opening weekend of the Premier League season remains closed to supporters
  • But fans are going to have to be patient as football fights for survival
  • Phil Foden has let down many people including the scouts that found him
  • New Republic of Ireland boss Stephen Kenny has taken bold tactical approach 

The last football match I covered when a crowd was present was Manchester United’s visit to Everton on March 1. On the way home I bumped the car.

It seemed important but since then I am not the only person to have learned a little something about perspective. It was just some crumpled metal.

More than six months on, most of us would give anything for a crowd — no matter how small — inside a football stadium. Football with nobody present is a very hard watch, harder than I ever thought likely.

Premier League games are still being played out in front of zero spectators across the country

Liverpool’s enthralling 4-3 victory over Leeds United was missing the background of fans

In the south of France on Saturday, a rugby league game took place with 5,000 people there. Watching for a few moments on TV, it was clear the difference was profound and it is right and welcome the Premier League continues to lobby the Government in regard to opening football turnstiles again as soon as possible.

When this happens it is not going to feel like a very fair and equal process and that’s precisely because it won’t be. Some stadia will open before others, for example. Some fans will get in and some will not.

But those who have already been emailing and phoning their clubs to complain and ask questions that simply cannot be answered yet really do need to pause. This is a huge moment for a sport that is currently as vulnerable as it has been since the cessation of play during the Second World War.

Grounds like Manchester City’s Etihad Stadium, based out of town, may find it easier to welcome back supporters following the Covid-19 pandemic

Normally we say football is fundamentally about the paying customers. The fans, we like to say, must come first. But this is different, this is unique. This is about football and its very being. This is about an industry under fundamental pressure to survive. So, for the moment, football comes first. To this end, clubs are doing everything they can to get their doors open but it is not easy.

One executive at a Premier League club told me this week of a Zoom call to discuss the latest steps forward. The call had 26 people on it, all from different authorities or organisations with a vested interest.

Some clubs, it seems likely, will get there before others. Clubs like Brighton or Manchester City for example — with out of town stadia served by tailored public transport and not hemmed in by populous housing estates — are going to find it easier to win an argument with public safety at its core than, say, Aston Villa or Everton, clubs still playing at older, inner-city grounds.

However inner-city stadiums such as Goodison Park may find it more difficult to allow supporters back in on safety grounds

Equally, when grounds do open, some supporters will get tickets while many more will not. In all likelihood this will be organised in such a way that rewards previous years of loyalty but even that will be far from satisfactory.

For many weeks and months ahead, capacity will not come anywhere near the scale of the demand. It is, I am afraid, going to disappoint many more supporters than it pleases.

It will be progress, though, and that is all that matters at a time when most of the noise around the Covid-19 pandemic points to an upturn in the risk to all of us. So please remember this before you call your club or local radio phone-in to say that things are not fair.

This is not about you, I am afraid. For now, your sport comes first.

Idiotic Foden has let many down 

Back in the day when Manchester City were not rich, money for the club’s academy was tight. But people like Dennis Tueart — on the board at the time — would badger chairman John Wardle for funds.

Mostly the academy — based then at a modest facility shared with the public near Manchester’s curry mile — would get its money and because of this young lads like Phil Foden would be found and nurtured.

Phil Foden (left) and Mason Greenwood were sent home from England duty after breaking quarantine rules while on international duty

So Foden owes a debt to Tueart and Wardle. And to academy scout Terry John, who spotted him as a six-year-old and to academy head Jim Cassell, who mapped out his path.

None of these people are at City now but that doesn’t matter. For when Foden wins his first England call-up and — alongside the similarly indulged Mason Greenwood of Manchester United — behaves like a selfish, reckless idiot, these are the people he slaps in the face.

‘Boys will be boys’, commented former City player Trevor Sinclair last week. Yes indeed. Boys will be boys. Particularly those not yet ready for the responsibility of playing for their country.

Is Kenny’s brave plan foolhardy? 

The new Republic of Ireland manager Stephen Kenny has decided to play a more expansive, possession-based game after the slightly risk-averse football of predecessors Mick McCarthy and Martin O’Neill.

When you look at the players available, the bravery of that decision becomes clear. So far Kenny’s team have drawn in Bulgaria and lost at home to Finland.

It is far too early to judge but it will be interesting to see how Kenny goes. Some of the Irish public didn’t like the way O’Neill and McCarthy set up their teams but it may just be they were doing it for a reason.

Republic of Ireland boss Stephen Kenny has changed their style of play since taking charge

Abraham has shown positive attitude

As Frank Lampard’s Chelsea start to look a little different, there will be pressure on the club’s young English players to prove they are good enough. The best will survive and the others will not.

Striker Tammy Abraham is among those who must improve and I am told that he recently rejected interest from Aston Villa, intimating he was not ready to give up on his Chelsea career yet.

For the 22-year-old that was a good start.

Tammy Abraham is determined to stay at Chelsea and fight for his place in the squad

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