Disclaimer: The views expressed within this article are entirely the author’s own and are not attributable to Wessex Scene as a whole.
The Prime Minister’s ‘cautiously optimistic’ roadmap out of lockdown seems to suggest that events with large audiences could take place as early as June.
A date now pencilled in to diaries up and down the country, June 21st is being predicted to be the best Monday in English history and the commencement of a summer like no other.
However, we must err on the side of caution when the Prime Minister makes big, bold statements like this. Let’s not forget that lockdown was meant to be three weeks. Here I am, a year later, being forced to stay at home and still waiting for a nightclub to welcome me with open arms.
Boris Johnson’s plans for the summer – ‘a season of hope, looking and feeling incomparably better for us all‘ – said that June 21st is the earliest date by which we can expect all social restrictions to be removed and our pre-pandemic lives will return here in England.
England are due to host the Czech Republic at Wembley on Tuesday 22nd June, so the question is will we be getting rid of the artificial crowd noise and seeing the stands in England’s largest stadium full of fans with painted faces and half-and-half scarves?
Whether I am dubbed a pessimist or realist, I wouldn’t hold my breath on the potential of a sold out Wembley Stadium holding 90,000 fans that warm Tuesday night. The pandemic will be over – it will – at some point, and that point is most certainly drawing closer with every day which passes. However, of the phrase ‘cautious optimism’, ‘cautious’ is the word I am more aligned with.
Firstly, will everyone really want to all of a sudden cram into stadia again? Straight away? I think it is unlikely. Whilst we are longing for social interaction, there is a difference between having six mates in a pub with you at a table, and cramming onto a Tube train in the midsummer up to Wembley Park. Anyone who has been to Wembley will know how awful it can be to get into and out of. My biggest curiosity – and one which, really, we won’t have the full answers for until several years have passed – is how much has the pandemic had a lasting impact on our own hygiene and habits? I, for one, feel almost uncomfortable even at the sight of pre-pandemic TV shows where actors are hugging, where they are sat on a bus with no face covering, or – as on my favourite soap, EastEnders, characters are sat in the pub in the middle of a national lockdown. How quickly will we want to get back into each others’ personal space? I certainly doubt it will be overnight.
Moreover, where is the opportunity for test events? The government’s (rightly) cautious approach out of the national lockdown in England means that test events will potentially begin in mid-May. But which events could be used that would slowly drive up to the 90,000 at Wembley? How do you go from a couple of thousand fans up to 90,000 within 5 weeks? And, as the government says, 5 weeks is required to see the impact of any interventions. So surely, we would need five weeks between a test event and seeing the data before we can safely say yes or no regarding larger events?
Also, UEFA seem adamant that the tournament will go ahead as planned this summer, hopping around grounds across the continent from Bilbao and Glasgow to Baku and Rome. How would that logistically work? Fans in one game, and not permitted in the other? It was a model used in the tier system in England before lockdown that was not hugely fair on visiting sides, but who knows? And what happens if the country of one game – say Portugal (though no games are being hosted there, take it as a hypothetical) – is on the ‘red list’ of countries from which people must spend 14 days in a hotel? Suddenly a tournament which will last four weeks is stretched further and further into what would end up being a very long summer.
Finally, what about away fans? Would UEFA really be happy with a tournament taking place in England with only English fans packing out grounds? Whilst I know there are European communities in England who may be wishing to support their national team, how would those tickets be administered? Would we force fans from Europe into quarantine for 10-14 days to watch their team and if so, who would foot the bill? Would the Portuguese fans pay in excess of £2,000 for a match in the UK?
I’m only asking the questions – I know I am not providing the solutions. I don’t have the answers, but I know I am approaching this summer’s sporting tournament with more caution that the Prime Minister and – for once – even he is being slow and steady. Whether we can scream ‘it’s coming home’ this summer hinges on how strong and stable our progress in reducing cases and increasing vaccine rollout is – if you’ll pardon the party political pun.