Read Robery Exley's detailed review of 2020. Here's April with the world in lockdown as the pandemic rages.
It never dawned on me before this year, the extent to which the spring and summer in Britain is often mapped out by major sporting events.
Events such as the London Marathon, FA Cup Semis and finals, Wimbledon etc, without you knowing it often mark out exactly where you’ve reached in the year. And when it suddenly all grinds to a halt, you have no idea where you are.
During this time, the nation’s football void was often filled with ITV showing a classic game on Saturday afternoon and on Saturday evening ‘Match of the Day’ carried on with classic footage and zoom banter between Gary Lineker, Ian Wright and Alan Shearer. For me, this wasn’t something I could be greatly bothered with. We’ve got YouTube for that sort of thing.
If truth be told, people often asked me during this time if I missed football and quite frankly, I didn’t. After the season we had thus far, I was quite happy to experience an unbeaten spell throughout the spring. A big part of me was also hoping for the 2019/20 season to be declared null and void and the records expunged so we’d be required to pick up where we left off at the end of the 2018/19 season (with the chance of Man City being expelled from the Champions League there’d be hope of sneaking back into the Champions League).
Covid-19 had halted football everywhere except for Nicaragua and Belarus (the latter included Arsenal’s Europa League opponent in recent seasons – BATE Borisov). Both leagues carried on playing throughout without a suspension in proceedings, bringing with it an increase in viewers across the globe for the Belarussian National league.
One thing was noticeable however and it revolved around how the game marks out your life.
As everyone knows, with Covid-19 there’s an incubation of around two weeks before the symptoms showed.
To me, the most effective way of jogging your memory as to what you were doing on any given day in the past is always to look over the Arsenal fixture list – i.e. – “it was the week we played X.Y, Z”.
With no fixtures played, if you felt worried that you might be developing Covid-19 related symptoms, you had to find another way of jogging the memory as to what you were doing 14 days earlier that might have so put you at risk.
In a world that suddenly cancelled everything, this wasn’t quite so easy.
One opportunity however which fell my way through a lack of football was that of weekend working at a higher rate of pay, as there would be no clash between work and kick off times. I could have been “quids in” if I wanted to make the most of this, however quite simply I wanted the Monday to Friday structure of life to retain some semblance of normality. As the World turned upside down, I simply didn’t want all days to just blur into one. Saturdays no longer meant match day; however, the weekend adrenaline buzz was to be unexpectedly replaced by simply visiting the supermarket.
With parents over seventy, I now took on this role for them at my own insistence and in the days before the mandatory face coverings for others (I personally always wore one in shops from March onwards) it became somewhat of a military operation, correctly executing the extensive shopping list whilst ensuring no-one breaches the two-metre distance rule – Supermarket sweep meets Call of Duty! Once you’d completed your mission, then came the sanitation process. I kept it going for a couple of months before my parents decided to take back the role by sneaking out of the house during my work hours. They claimed that they shopped at a time of day when the supermarkets were quieter, so they couldn’t see why they weren’t doing it themselves.
Another plus point of the period was living by the seaside and being able to execute the permitted one hour of daily exercise with a stroll or cycle along the seafront. However unfortunate we were with the pandemic; in the Spring of 2020 we were blessed with the weather. And on most days, it was a totally clear view across the Thames Estuary to Kent – a view I can’t ever recall looking so clear on such a regular basis. Apparently, traffic levels across the country had fallen by 73% and to their lowest levels since 1955, which makes me wonder whether the two factors were linked. Notable events for April and May 2020 were as follows:
1st April 2020: Tory MP for Solihull Julian Knight - also the chair of the Parliamentary Digital, Culture, Media and Sport committee – accused Premiership football clubs of operating in a moral vacuum for Furloughing non-playing staff, but continuing to pay their players in full. Spurs, Sheffield United, Newcastle United, Norwich City, Bournemouth and Liverpool were all reported to have Furloughed, or attempted to Furlough non-playing staff with the Taxpayer picking up the bill for 80% of their wages. All but Norwich City and Newcastle United reversed their original decision and publicly apologised.
The British Chambers of Commerce reported that as many as nine million workers in Britain were in receipt of Furlough payments under the Government’s job retention scheme
3rd April 2020: The UK’s first ‘Nightingale’ hospital opens at the Excel centre in Custom House, East London – a venue usually hosting big events and trade fairs, but now due to circumstances left vacant.
4th April 2020: Today is the day in which Arsenal were scheduled to face Norwich City at home in the Premiership – a game which I had purchased a ticket for. The day is a clear, warm spring day which brings an added element of sadness as to the game’s cancellation. Much of watching football throughout the season is the suffering of freezing cold temperatures and inclement weather. Games played out in spring sunshine without coats on are the days that you long for all season long and this year, we’ve been denied them.
However, far sadder tragedies are being played out in the real world which puts this loss into perspective.
A five-year-old child with underlying health conditions dies from a Covid-19 related illness. One month later, an even younger victim of just six weeks old also died as a result of Covid-19.
Today would also have been the day in which the Grand National would have been ran at Aintree, however, was cancelled on 16th March, as with all Horse Racing in the UK until the end of April. In its place was a computer generated virtual Grand National which was televised on ITV. The virtual race recreated as accurately as possible, all aspects of the race such as the course layout and National fences.
The simulation itself was made up of mathematical algorithms using data taken from the horses' previous performances. The race's outcome used a number of factors such as age, weight, form and weather conditions, but also contained details such as fallers, unseated riders and collapsing fences. The virtual race was won by a horse called Potters Corner.
5th April 2020: A 47-year-old Congolese-born railway worker, Belly Mujinga had tragically died after testing positive for Covid-19. On 21 March 2020, she was allegedly spat and coughed on by a 57-year-old man who claimed to have the virus. On 29 May, police announced following an interview with the man that a test had shown he did not have the virus, so could not have been the source of Belly Mujinga's infection, and that they would not be doing anything in relation to the assault.
6th April 2020: The UK’s death tolls now exceeds 5,000 people and the total number of recorded cases exceeds 52,000. One week after testing positive for Covid-19, Prime Minister Boris Johnson is taken into intensive care at Guys & ST. Thomas Hospital, where he would remain on a ventilator for the next six days, before leaving hospital on 12th April. Outside of the UK, the mother of Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola dies from a Covid-19 related illness.
9th April 2020: In a rare piece of good news heading into the Easter weekend, Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta confirms a full recovery from Covid-19 in an interview with Sky Sports
12th April 2020: By Easter Sunday, the number of people who died in hospital with Covid-19 in the UK now passes 10,000. The Queen makes a rare Easter address to the nation in acknowledgement of such exceptional times. Meanwhile, comedian Tim Brooke-Taylor from The Goodies becomes a high-profile fatality of Covid-19.
English football misses its first Easter weekend schedule of football since 1888, however with football seasons across the World grinding to a halt as a result of Covid-19, in one country the football season progressed as normal. The Taiwanese Football Premier League went ahead on its scheduled starting date. Taiwan had avoided a national lockdown throughout 2020 and as of December has seen less than 600 cases and only seven deaths from a population of 24 million, as a result of being exceptionally well prepared for future pandemics after suffering badly during the SARS outbreak in the noughties.
14th April 2020: As most of the nation is now reliant on a good internet connection in order to carry on working, rather unhelpfully mobile operators report that over Easter weekend there had been twenty attempted arson attacks on mobile phone masts, in response to rather strange conspiracy theories doing the rounds that Covid-19 infection is related to 5G masts.
It’s a theory somewhat undermined by the fact that the first country to adopt 5G on a large scale was South Korea, who happened to have one of the World’s lowest Covid-19 infection rates (e.g., South Korea’s total number of Covid-19 cases in 2020 at 57.000 is a figure beneath the UK’s total number of Covid-19 deaths, with a population roughly fourth fifths of the UK’s)
By May 1st, Facebook and YouTube took action against this madness and deleted the social media accounts of former Coventry City goalkeeper and BBC Sports correspondent David Icke for spreading conspiracy theories that the Covid-19 pandemic was related to 5G masts.
15th April 2020: On the day that the football world mourns the 31st anniversary of the Hillsborough Disaster which caused the death of 96 football fans, the UK suffers a daily Covid-19 related death toll of 880 – a figure over nine times that suffered at the ill fated 1989 FA Cup Semi Final, which gives you some indication of the tragedy unfolding (in fact April’s lowest daily death total would be as high as 413 on 26th April).
16th April 2020: Captain Tom Moore raises £25m for the NHS after completing 100 laps around his garden. He later becomes somewhat of a figurehead in the battle against Covid-19 becoming the oldest person to reach number one in the UK pop charts with a duet of ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ with Michael Ball. He also goes on to receive a knighthood from the Queen for his fund-raising efforts.
17th April 2020: In recognition of the perilous effect of Covid-19 on the football industry, Arsenal players and staff agree a 12.5% pay cut. Mesut Ozil however is one of just three players to reject a pay cut. His decision raises the ire of Arsenal fan Piers Morgan who rants against Ozil’s decision on ‘Good Morning Britain’. Similar pay cuts were taken by the playing staff of Aston Villa and West Ham United.
Other cost cutting measures at Arsenal included the club's executive team agreeing to waive more than a third of their earnings over the next 12 months, while all other employees are to receive their salaries in full and casual workers paid for the remaining four home matches.
Meanwhile, Covid-19 brings down a competitor as tough as former Leeds United hard man Norman “Bites Yer Legs” Hunter, who dies after testing positive for the virus, aged 76.
18th April 2020: This was to be the original date for the FA Cup Semi Finals. In the real world however, Care England estimates as many as 7,500 care home residents in the UK had died as a result of Covid-19
21st April 2020: Former Arsenal right back Dave Bacuzzi passes away after testing positive for Covid-19, aged 79. Dave was from an Anglo-Italian family and born in Islington. His father Joe Bacuzzi also turned out for Arsenal as a wartime guest player in 1945.
23rd April 2020: On a positive note, Europe’s first human trials for a Covid-19 vaccine begin in Oxford. Also, Germany’s Bundesliga announced plans to restart again on May 9th behind closed doors though the final decision would lay with the German government giving the plan the green light. At this point in proceedings, the Germans had more successfully dealt with Covid-19 and boasted of one of the lowest death rates in Europe
24th April 2020: During a White House coronavirus task force briefing, U.S. President Donald Trump had suggested research into whether coronavirus might be treated by injecting disinfectant into the body. He alsoappeared to propose irradiating Covid-19 patients' bodies with UV light. Medical experts and the makers of domestic cleaning products were quick to denounce Donald Trump’s suggestions and strongly urge members of the public not to inject bleach as a way to fight Covid-19.
26th April 2020: The original date for the 2020 London Marathon. The event is to be postponed until further notice
30th April 2020: The UK ends the month with close to 27,000 deaths attributed to Covid-19 infection in total