Read Robert Exley's in-depth review of 2020. Here's his take on September.
Very often – especially in the absence of World Cup or Euros – the close season can seem like an almighty chasm. In 2020 however, the ending of one season and the start of another simply just blurred into one.
For one season at least, gone were the Emirates Cup and pre-season tours of the Far East. Notable events for September 2020 would include the following:
1st September 2020: After a period of nearly six months of school closure and home schooling, Schools reopen across the UK. Within a few days of this, leading epidemiologist Dame Anne Johnson warns the UK faces a "critical moment" in the Covid pandemic, as students prepare within weeks to return to universities and cases rise among younger people. She stated that “We are now seeing the highest number of infections or at least detected infections in younger people aged 20 to 29 and also going up to 45-year-olds”. Latest figures from Public Health England (PHE) also showed that the highest coronavirus case rates were among 15 to 44-year-olds.
Meanwhile, in an attempt to tackle child food poverty, Man Utd forward Marcus Rashford announced that he had set up the Child Food Poverty Task Force in collaboration with several UK food shops, manufacturers, charities, and delivery companies.
On the Arsenal front, Henrik Mkhitaryan secures a permanent transfer to Roma
4th September 2020: Real Madrid confirm that Dani Ceballos is to be loaned out to Arsenal again to the end of the season.
5th September 2020: the England national side plays their first post-Covid international fixture, an away UEFA Nations League group tie at Iceland, behind closed doors. It had been 293 days since England’s last fixture, away to Kosovo in Mid-November 2019. A last-minute penalty conversion from Raheem Stirling gave England a 1-0 victory.
Arsenal meanwhile played a home friendly with Aston Villa, which gave a first run-out for Willian in an Arsenal shirt and one of the last appearances of Mesut Ozil is an Arsenal shirt. Two goals for Pierre Emerick Aubameyang couldn’t stop a 2-3 defeat for the Gunners, with Douglas Luiz on the scoresheet for Villa and two for Jacob Ramsey.
Also, as an example of how Covid had brought confusion and chaos lower down in football’s pyramid, one legged semi-finals for the non-league’s premier knock out competition – the FA Trophy – belatedly took place, having originally been scheduled for 21/03/2020. One of the participants would be a side local to my parent’s address – Concord Rangers, based on Canvey Island. The club were founded as a boy’s side in 1967 and had only joined the Essex Senior League in 1991.
The club were mainly in the shadow of the Island’s other side – Canvey Island FC, founded in 1927 with famed giant-killing FA Cup runs in the early noughties – and until the appointment of Danny Cowley in 2008 were better known locally for having a club house rented out for parties, wedding receptions and the like, rather than for any on the pitch achievements. Concord rose up through the non-league pyramid and while Cowley moved on in 2015 to end up rising as high as achieving an FA Cup quarter-final tie with Arsenal in 2017 and later managing Huddersfield Town in the Championship up until last summer, Rangers now stand in the National League South and two tiers above the Island’s more famed side.
Sadly however, with the emergence of Covid, it would be Concord Rangers that would be punished for their own success. As a National League South club, they would fall within the Government’s definition of “Elite football” and like every other club in the National League, EFL and Premiership, they too would be prohibited from admitting paying spectators. As Canvey Island were beneath this standard, back in September they were permitted a limited attendance for their home fixtures.
In their last full season of fixtures back in 2018/19, Concord’s average attendance would be just 404 in a ground with a capacity of 3,300 (making social distancing for most of their games more than possible). Canvey Island’s last full season of fixtures brought an average of just under 200 in a ground with a capacity of 4,100 and by the start of the 2020/21 season were pretty much able to acquire match day revenue as normal. In August, Canvey Island got to play friendly fixtures in front of limited crowds, which included a fixture against Concord on 22nd August in front of 200 people.
As Concord Rangers were due to play their FA Trophy semi-final without spectators, on the other side of the Island a crowd of 400 people saw Canvey Island play a friendly fixture with Phoenix Sports, from the Isthmian League South East Division.
In fact, so confusing were the rules on Covid safety, that while Concord couldn’t allow paying spectators into their ground to see the tie, their club house bar was permitted to allow paying customers to view that very same game indoors on their big screen!
In the event, a 2-1 victory for Concord over Halesowen put them in the final at Wembley against Harrogate Town (now an EFL side), which was due to take place on 26th September, one day after the FA Trophy’s Extra Preliminary round fixture for the 2020/21 season was scheduled to take place.
The Final at Wembley was to be played along with the FA Vase final in front of a crowd of 1,000 supporters as part of a government pilot scheme.
However, within six days, the final was postponed in response to a rise in Covid cases nationwide.
As of January 2021, this final has still yet to be played.
The FA Trophy tournament for 2020/21 however has proceeded as normal and the fourth-round proper of the tournament is scheduled for 16/01/2021.
Concord though have already been eliminated from the 2020/21 tournament as a result of a 1-2 defeat against Truro City on 09/12/2020.
With planned admission of spectators for “elite football” expected from the start of October, Concord’s National League South fixtures were delayed until after this date.
Canvey Island however were able to kick off their FA Cup campaign in the Preliminary Round against Ware in front of a crowd of 216, as well as kick off their league season on 19/09/2020 with a crowd of 336.
12th September 2020: The Premiership season kicks off with Arsenal visiting Craven Cottage to face Fulham. This would be the first September start to a season since before the First World War. Goals for Alex Lacazette, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Gabriel gave Arsenal a comprehensive 3-0 victory.
13th September 2020: Nearly 17,000 people from 57 countries take part in a virtual Great North Run, after the cancellation of the official event
14th September 2020: The Government announces that social gatherings of more than six people will be banned in England
16th September 2020: After his FA Cup heroics, Emi Martinez felt compelled to seek regular first team football and transferred to Aston Villa. Meanwhile, after several months absence of match day revenue, the High Court made a winding-up order against Macclesfield Town, which pushed the club into liquidation and expulsion from the National League.
17th September 2020: From the first twelve days of September, confirmed new Covid cases surged from 1295 to 3497. In response to this, experts on the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) and the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling (Spi-m) both suggested a national lockdown that could coincide with the October school half-term to minimalize the impact on education.
A SAGE document from 20/09/2020 analysed the possible impact of a 2-week lockdown between October 25 to November 8 and revealed data suggesting the temporary national lockdown could have seen the number of Covid infections, hospitalisations and deaths fall by mid-November.
The PM however resisted the advice and instead chose to apply a three-tier lockdown system for England.
19th September 2020: Arsenal’s first home game of the season came with a Saturday night visit of West Ham United. Lacazette put Arsenal ahead midway through the first half of the season. Michail Antonio equalised in the first minute of the second half. West Ham went close with a few chances in the second half, while Arsenal also struggled to create chances. However, an Eddie Nketia strike four minutes from time, gave Arsenal a 2-1 victory.
21st September 2020: This is the day of the autumn equinox, where the nights start to become longer than the days. It also brought with it the start of Fresher’s week 2020 for University students up and down the country.
The government's scientific advisory group, Sage, said in a document published earlier in the month there was a"significant risk" that higher education "could amplify local and national transmission" of Covid.
Just two weeks earlier, it was recorded that a third of Covid cases were among those aged between 20–29.
22nd September 2020: Plans for limited crowds to return to “elite” football had been shelved by the government in light of increasing Covid-19 transmission rates across the UK.
23rd September 2020: Arsenal’s first Carabao Cup tie of the season sees Arsenal head to Leicester. The game would only be available for a sum of £10 on carabaocup.live, which is the EFL’s official Streaming Site of the Carabao Cup.
On the same platform, EFL clubs kept their match day revenue coming in by streaming their games.
A Christian Fuchs own goal and a last-minute goal for Eddie Nketia secured Arsenal’s passage to the fourth round of the tournament the following week, with a 2-0 victory.
24th September 2020: With the aim of narrowing the window in which infection could be spread, a nationwide 10pm curfew for pubs is introduced.
The measure however had many critics, one of whom was London Mayor Sadiq Khan who claimed that the measure “didn’t make sense” and was even subject to a legal challenge led by a Nightclub chain owner called Jeremy Joseph. By September 28, John Apter, national chairman of the Police Federation, said officers were finding it difficult to disperse large crowds which gathered after the close down, since the measure was introduced.
Scientists also raised concerns that the measure actually aided transmission of the disease. Professor Susan Michie - a member of the Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) – claimed that it was “predictable” that ejecting people on to the streets all at the same time would lead to crowds forming.
28th September 2020: Arsenal faced Champions Liverpool away on the final Monday of the month. Sadly, Arsenal’s 100 per cent record would end with a 1-3 defeat at Anfield. Alex Lacazette put Arsenal ahead on 25 minutes, before Sadio Mane equalised three minutes later, with further goals from Andy Robertson and Diogo Jota.
29th September 2020: In light of the Government shelving of a return to crowds for “elite football”, it had agreed to provide National League sides with a bail out to enable them to start their season in the first week of October.
However, as the month drew to a close, the UK recorded 7,143 new Covid cases with 71 coronavirus-related deaths.
These figures were the highest since the start of July, which showed that the UK’s trajectory was moving away from returning to normal, with no reasonable expectation of when normal service was expected to resume.