Read Robert Exley's detailed review of 2020 - June.
The month of June is known for being flaming hot, though over in the states in the aftermath of the death of George Floyd, the heat had turned up to furnace-like temperatures.
By the close of May, the protests that began on the streets of Minnesota had spread outside to New York City, Atlanta and Washington, D.C. and curfews imposed in LA and Philadelphia following “Civil Disturbances”.
As we entered June the protests went global, just as football returned from lockdown.
Taking the knee now became as much a pre-match ritual as the handshake and the coin toss in the centre circle and, whatever your opinion on BLM as a movement, the moment it got the endorsement from the Premiership is the moment the message went full on mainstream.
No longer was it an outlier Garage Band-like movement followed only by those in the know. It had now entered the Stadium arena as if it was U2 or Queen stealing the show at Live Aid.
Back in August 2016, Colin Kaepernick’s taking the knee gesture started off as something of a lone act. Following the killing of George Floyd, Premiership football collectively kneeled as one, with “Black Lives Matter” briefly replacing player names on the backs of shirts and the BLM logo occupying the right sleeves of Premiership club shirts until the very close of the season and beyond.
As well as this, the very fact a football season stretched well into Cricket season territory made it unprecedented times for the world. Other notable incidents from the month of June were as follows:
1st June 2020: The month starts with a new set of rules laid down before the UK population, which allowed for the reopening of Car showrooms and outdoor sports amenities and outdoor non-food markets may reopen.
The prohibitions on leaving home are replaced by a prohibition on staying overnight away from home, with certain specific exceptions. Gatherings of people from more than one household outdoors was now permitted for a limited number of six people outdoors and are prohibited entirely indoors, with exceptions including education.
Also, Horse Racing and Snooker become the first competitive sports to resume (both behind closed doors) and Ikea reopen 19 of its UK stores.
3rd - 4th June 2020: A large demonstration in response to George Floyd’s death took place at Hyde Park in London, with similar demonstrations occurring in other parts of the country such as Brighton, Southampton, Oxford, Edinburgh, York, Birmingham, Leeds and Sheffield largely adhering to social distancing rules
5th June 2020: Following the WSL’s decision on May 25th that its season would end with immediate effect, Chelsea were awarded the title on a points per game basis
6th June 2020: In preparation for the new normal service to resume, Arsenal play a behind closed doors friendly against Charlton Athletic at the Emirates Stadium. Arsenal romp to a 6-0 victory with goals from Lacazette, Aubameyang, Willock and a hattrick for Eddie Nketia.
However, when it comes to resuming normal service, this would be nothing in comparison to New Zealand, who on this day managed to report no new cases of Covid-19, with just one active case of the disease in the whole country.
Meanwhile, the following day, a statute of 17th Century slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol had been pulled down and then dumped in Bristol Harbour.
While there was outrage at the vandalism in some quarters, it did manage to raise the question as to just how similar statutes were dotted around the UK and why they were still standing.
The following week, Tower Hamlets removed a statute of noted slaveholder Robert Milligan from its plinth next to West India Quay.
I worked close by to it for five years and never had any idea it was a statute of slave trader, so it looks like the vandalism indirectly succeeded in raising my consciousness on some level.
9th June 2020: Clubs in Leagues One and Two vote to end their seasons without completion with league positions decided on a points per game basis, for the benefit of Coventry City and Rotherham who achieved promotion to the Championship and Wycombe Wanderers who jumped from 7th place to 3rd and a spot within the play offs (which were still to be played out), while Swindon Town were crowned League Two Champions and Macclesfield dropped to the National League.
10th June 2020: Arsenal play out their second pre-restart friendly at home to promotion chasing Brentford. Despite goals for Joe Willock and Alex Lacazette, Arsenal crash to a 2-3 defeat.
13th June 2020: While English football was counting down the days to return of competitive fixtures behind closed doors. Events on the other side of the globe would show just how far behind we were in the UK. Over at Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin in New Zealand’s South Island, the Highlanders took on Hamilton based side The Chiefs in front of a crowd in excess of 22,000 people to see the home side secure a narrow 28-27 victory.
Meanwhile, after fellow antipodeans Australia had also not reported a death for more than a week, which led to the Government of the state of South Australia giving the all-clear for more than 2,240 fans to attend an Aussie Rules Football game - the Adelaide Derby at the Adelaide Oval, between Port Adelaide and the Adelaide Crows.
Back in the UK, an official BLM protest in London was cancelled as a result of concerns of a counter protest by far right groups, as a group called the “Democratic Football Lads Alliance” attempted to mobilise its followers to travel to London to protect historical monuments from vandalism (the statute of Winston Churchill had been boarded up in the days prior for this very reason).
One of the abiding images of the day had been one of the statute “protectors” urinating on a memorial to PC Keith Palmer, who had been killed in the line of duty during an terrorist attack on Westminster in 2017 (the urinating man was later jailed for 14 days as a result of his actions).
15th June 2020: Just over four months on from London’s first confirmed case of Covid-19, wearing a face covering finally becomes mandatory on all public transport in England (from a personal point of view however, rather than revelling in the long sought-after normality of mask wearing on the tube, which I’d been waiting for as far back as February, I haven’t set foot on public transport since March. Thank heavens for that motor vehicle I’d acquired last autumn!).
New rules also permit the general re-opening of English retail shops and public-facing businesses apart from those on a list of specific exclusions, which includes restaurants, bars, pubs, nightclubs, most cinemas, theatres, museums, hairdressers and indoor sports and leisure facilities.
While the Premiership is waiting to get the ball rolling again, Marcus Rashford warms up by using Parliament for shooting practice. The Man United striker writes an open letter to MPs urging them to reconsider their decision to cancel the food voucher scheme over the summer holidays. A day later, the government announced a change in policy regarding the extension of free school meals for children during the summer holidays.
17th June 2020: After an absence of 102 days, Arsenal return to competitive action. It would come as no surprise that this would be the latest ever fixture to be played out in top-flight football, (however it would only beat the previous record by just three days!)
First up though at 6PM would be Aston Villa at home to Sheffield United. The thing that had intrigued me all spring through football’s absence would be how Sky and the Premiership would deal with coverage in empty stadiums. Having tuned in mid-way through the first half it came as somewhat of a shock to hear crowd noise.
It seems that what the Premiership had picked up from the Bundesliga’s return a month prior would be an audience alienated by the noise of players shouting at each other echoing around vast empty stadia and the site of empty seats as far as the eye can see.
It seems that rather like a chemotherapy patient using a hair piece, the artificial crowd noise and banners would blunt the severity of the game’s visible suffering. The best Villa and the Blades could muster was a 0-0 draw.
City tried to get around the lack of an audience with a zoom crowd on a video board next to the pitch behind the goal. Goals from Raheem Stirling, a penalty conversion for Kevin De Bruyne following a sending off for David Luiz and a Phil Foden strike inflicted a 0-3 defeat which if we’re being brutally honest instantly made you long for a return of football’s lockdown absence. And it wasn’t yet to get any better in a few days’ time
20th June 2020: Up until now, the mid-summer Saturday fixture has always been the preserve of the blockbuster international tournament – Brazil v France in Mexico ’86, England v Spain in Euro ’96, Ireland beating the Italians in USA ’94, Brazil v England in the 2002 World Cup. Therefore, a common or garden mid-summer away trip to Brighton seems somewhat of an oddity.
The game swung on an injury to Arsenal keeper Bernd Leno, in a controversial exchange with Brighton’s Neil Maupay (on the international tournament theme it was something of a reversal of the Schumacher v Battiston clash from Espana ’82, this time the German keeper coming off the worse against the French outfield player).
The empty stadium made Leno’s screams in pain all the more audible. An excellent strike from Nicolas Pepe gave Arsenal the lead, however a late strike for Neil Maupay sunk Arsenal with a 1-2 defeat down on the South Coast. A post-match clash with Neil Maupay however effectively marked the card of Matteo Guendouzi in an Arsenal shirt.
25th June 2020: After a five-day break, Arsenal head to the South Coast again to face Southampton in the early evening late June sunshine. Goals for Eddie Nketia and Joe Willock gave Arsenal three points tailor made at Hale End, with a 2-0 win - the Gunners first competitive victory for over three and a half months.
Later that evening, a 1-2 defeat for Man City finally settled the title race as Liverpool won what would be the quickest title victory in terms of games played and latest in terms of the calendar (though oddly enough only by 11 days, Liverpool beating their previous record of 14th June, set back in 1947)
28th June 2020: The month for Arsenal ends with a trip to Bramall Lane to face Sheffield United in the Quarter Finals of the FA Cup. Arsenal took the lead with a Nicolas Pepe penalty. Though the Blades pulled one back with a late equaliser from David McGoldrick, Arsenal secured their passage to the Semi Final with a well taken late goal from Dani Ceballos and a 2-1 victory.
So after a disastrous first 180 minutes after returning from their enforced Covid-19 break, Arsenal finally find some glory at the close of June. She Wore a Yellow Ribbon in the merry month of July may be an odd variation on the famed old chant, but in the month which was to follow, Arsenal were on their way to (an albeit empty) Wembley.