Here's Robert Exley's in-depth review of 2020. Read on for May - another tumultuous month.
6th May 2020: German Chancellor Angela Markel and Germany’s 16 state leaders gave the green light for the Bundesliga season to restart behind closed doors. The Bundesliga confirm a start date of 16th May.
7th – 8th May 2020: On the eve of VE Day, the front pages of the national press suggest from news leaked from Downing Street that the UK’s lockdown restrictions will be eased the following Monday, with the Daily Mail leading with “Hurrah! Lockdown Freedom Beckons”. The tone was accused of creating mix messaging with the general public, with public outrage over footage of street parties, conga lines and group singing of ‘We’ll Meet Again’ in breach of social distancing appeared online
8th May 2020: South Korea’s K-League starts its season behind closed doors, over two months after its originally planned starting date due to Covid-19. Players are even instructed not to speak to each other on the pitch to avoid transmission of the virus. In the absence of top-level football across the globe, the K-League signs record overseas broadcasting deals with a number of countries, including a streaming deal with the BBC Sports website.
10th May 2020: In PM Boris Johnson’s address to the nation, the public messaging shifts from “Stay at Home” to “Stay Alert”, and that members of the public could see people outside their households outdoors. The PM messaging however was widely criticised as being far too vague and lacking in clarity. Within a week, Chancellor Rishi Sunak announces the extension of the Furlough scheme to October
16th – 17th May 2020: On the original date for the end of the 2019/20 English football season, Germany’s Bundesliga restarts post-Covid. The Dortmund v Schalke Derby on restart day however would show just how unusual big games behind closed doors would be for TV viewers. Meanwhile, a group of around fifty people called the UK Freedom Movement gathered at Hyde Park in London to oppose lockdown restrictions, which resulted in the arrest of Jeremy Corbyn’s brother Piers.
23rd-25th May 2020: This would be the weekend when the FA Cup Final and Championship Play Off final were originally scheduled. However, in the absence of football, the real World would not be short on drama. The front page of the Daily Mirror reports that Boris Johnson’s government advisor Dominic Cummings had breached lockdown rules while suffering from Covid-19 symptoms.
In a joint investigation with The Guardian, Cummings was reported to have travelled 260 miles from London to Durham to self-isolate during a national lockdown in which the UK public were ordered to stay at home. Downing Street’s official reaction to this story was that he travelled to the north east to be near relatives who could look after his young son if he became ill himself. Cummings was also reported to have travelled 30 miles to Barnard Castle on Easter Sunday (also his wife’s birthday). In a now infamous Downing Street press conference held on 25th May, Cummings claimed that the purpose of the journey was “to assess whether he was well enough to drive, as his wife was concerned that the disease had affected his eyesight”.
A YouGov poll conducted after the press conference found that 71% of the British public felt that Cummings had broken lockdown rules, with 59% believing that he should have resigned. Downing Street retained his services; however, it was widely believed that the matter had fundamentally undermined the Government’s subsequent public health messaging thereafter – often described as the “Cummings effect”.
Meanwhile on the same day, over in Minnesota, USA came an infamous incident which equally caused shock waves that would have a lasting effect on matters for the rest of the year and, probably beyond. Forty-six-year-old African-American man George Floyd had been arrested for allegedly using a counterfeit dollar bill, in the process of which police officer Derek Chauvin had caused his death as a result of kneeling on Floyd’s neck for a duration just short of nine minutes (the incident was caught in full by camera phone footage).
The traumatic footage of the incident had gone viral, causing worldwide outrage, the ripples of which would be still be felt in the months ahead and particularly so within football circles.
28th May 2020: After ten weeks, the weekly clap for carers at 8PM on Thursday nights ends. Anne Marie Plas – a Dutch Yoga teacher who launched the initiative – felt that it should have stopped at its peak to prevent the narrative around the applause turning negative.
In other news, the major European leagues look to follow the Bundesliga’s lead with the Premiership setting a Provisional restart date of 17/06/2020. Serie A also gets the go-ahead from Italian minister for sport, Vincenzo Spadafora to resume fixtures from 20th June. On 23rd May, La Liga was given the green light to resume from 08/06/2020.
30th May 2020: The UK government announces that competitive sport will be allowed in England behind closed doors from 1st June, but leaving the matter up to the individual sporting bodies to decide on what date to restart. This effectively gave the green light for Premiership football to return on 17/06/2020, with Arsenal’s rearranged away fixture with Man City to take place on this date.
After a fifteen-week gap, football was to return after what would be not just the game’s longest mid-season break, but most probably the longest ever gap between fixtures in peacetime.
While a return to normal life would still be some way off, some sort of semblance of normality would be returning with the 2019/20 season picking up where it left off in mid-June.