The Restart project is now over and the top performing national football league in the world has finally resumed operations three months after it was stopped by the coronavirus crisis. Villa against the Blades was the aperitif, followed by the champions, Manchester City, host of Arsenal. Another 90 games will follow in six weeks, all broadcast live on television, all played in front of empty stands. Football is back, but a lot has changed in the interim.
While the pandemic affected everything, the Black Lives Matter movement had a direct influence on the day. The players displayed the slogan on the back of their shirts where their names would usually be (on the front was a blue heart badge with the letters NHS inside). Much of the pre-game buildup on Sky Sports was spent discussing racial inequality, the experience of blacks and players, and what their white colleagues and neighbors could and should do to bring about change. . There were no expert annotated highlights, no artificial talking points about the video referees.The opening match, experienced by everyone who looked beyond the people directly involved and a small handful of selected media, was also a very different experience. The stands were filled with flags to cover the empty seats and dotted with club staff in personal protective equipment. There was also a lonely hi-vis jacket, a tribute to the father of Villa manager Dean Smith, who died three weeks ago of coronavirus-related illness and who had been a long-time steward at the club.
The sound was as unusual as the pictures, with a Sky channel playing the game – with only the cries of the audible players – and another covering an artificially generated crowd noise “carpet”. The hubbub was supposed to go up and down in tandem with the action, but in its infancy it seemed to suffer slightly from delays and occasional inappropriate overreactions.
As for football, it was pretty good. The energy, tempo and relentless physics that is the trademark of the Premier League were present and correct from the start, and the game was littered with heavy challenges and swirling crosses. There was one common point of controversy, as Villa’s goalkeeper wore the ball in his own net without a goal being scored due to a failure in Goalline technology. Ultimately, the match ended 0-0.
Earlier in the day, at the government’s daily press conference on Covid-19, Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden called the return of the league “an extremely symbolic moment”.
Dowden, who played a central role in the recovery, said: “The Premier League is coming back and the world will watch. All but five countries will broadcast tonight’s games – highlighting the global reach of football and the gentle power of British sport.
“Of course it will be a very different event than what we are used to, but there is no doubt that this is an extremely symbolic moment. An important step forward in our journey towards normality. ”
Dowden also had his own message for the fans. “To keep the advantage of the house, the support of the house,” he said. With supporters prevented from entering the stadiums for fear of contagion, the subsequent fear of supporters gathering outside the pitch had been a central concern during the weeks of planning the restart. Police at the national level last month suggested that the season be ended on neutral ground to eliminate such a risk. Such a result was avoided, but only on condition that the league and its member clubs take steps to keep supporters at home.
The Premier League is committed to persuading fans to turn away from the outside and has duly drawn up its own tripartite mantra: “Support your club. Stay safe. Follow at home. The league released a short online video on Wednesday to thank fans in advance for being away and encourage them to start new rituals on match day at home, such as “singing our songs in the kitchen and celebrate in the garden “.
Richard Masters, general manager of the Premier League, marked the restart by saying: “I am delighted that we will resume the 2019-2020 season tonight. We’ve done it step by step, working with government, our clubs, players and managers and many other organizations to make sure we start at the right time. There has been a lot of hard work to get to this point, but the real price will be finishing the season.
“Of course it will be an unusual experience not to have supporters in the stadiums. The Premier League will not be completely “back” until the fans can come back, but we all know that this is not possible at the moment, so the best thing fans can do is take advantage of the action at home – watching TV, listening to the radio or social media. “