It was squeaky-bum time for supporters when the omicron variant threatened to once again force games to be played behind closed doors. It got us thinking about all the things we missed during the interrupted 2019-2021 seasons and while teams might still be feeling the effects of covid call-offs, here are five reasons to celebrate the game…Embed from Getty Images
We’ve all seen the videos of kids staring in wide-eyed amazement when they walk into cavernous stadiums to experience their first match – and the absence of football left a gaping hole in fans’ hearts during the covid-hit 2019/20 and 2020/2021 campaigns. How many of us felt like a child again when crowds flooded back to stadiums? Who didn’t yearn for the smell of the half-time pie, the rousing songbook, or even found themselves feeling a little bit nostalgic about the pesky stadium announcer when games were played behind closed doors during lockdown? Grounds were soulless without supporters. Attending a match in the UK is certainly different from that of a game in the US; you just can’t beat this season as fans and players alike get to fully appreciate the matchday experience again here. Football without the fans is nothing.
Like footballers, we’re back in our pre and post-match routines. It’s just that most of ours don’t involve side shuffles and legs swings but rather beer swigging and nervous eating after picking out the colours, and perhaps even donning the lucky pants (no judgement, it’s all about those marginal gains), before the chanting and scarf hoisting begins. Afterwards, we tune in to some of the best sports podcasts like The Offside Rule, but more on that later.
Women’s football slays
The 2015 World Cup in Canada was a seminal moment for the game. The US may have been crowned champions, but it was a triumph for women’s football as a whole, with record-breaking audiences of more than 750 million tuning in to the competition and mainstream media finally taking note. The USWNT, led by captain Megan Rapinoe, were inspirations on and off the pitch as they highlighted the important issue of the gender pay gap, having been paid almost four times less than their male counterparts who only managed to reach the last 16.
Since taking US Soccer, Fifa and even Donald Trump to task, it’s helped pave the way for teams such as Rayo Vallecano in Spain’s Primera Division to this season demand better conditions and wages as the battle for equal pay continues apace. Last year, the WSL struck a landmark £24-million TV deal with the BBC and Sky Sports and now England’s gearing up for another huge summer hosting the 2022 Women’s Euros. With stars including Spain’s 2021 Ballon d’Or winner Alexia Putellas, England defender Lucy Bronze and Dutch ace Vivianne Miedema showcasing their talents and over 140,000 tickets already sold, the game continues to go from strength to strength.
The Premier League isn’t lacking in city rivalries with Manchester City v Manchester United, Liverpool v Everton and the North London derby all featuring a glittering array of stars, such as Kevin De Bruyne, Ronaldo, Mo Salah, and Harry Kane, who have brought eyes onto the league. The EPL may have the big names but there’s no fiercer rivalry than next month’s Celtic v Rangers powderkeg clash in the Scottish Premiership. Nothing matches the passion and electric atmosphere of the Glasgow derby as the Hoops look to bounce back from last season’s disastrous 10-in-a-row bid.
With the Der Klassiker and El Clasico having global appeal – the latter reaching a viewing audience of 650 million across a staggering 185 countries – no one does more fearsome rivalries that capture the imaginations of fans quite like football. And they’re all coming up for your viewing pleasure in the next few months… While Chelsea v Arsenal’s the most intriguing battle in the WSL title race, with the Blues hoping Pernille Harder finds the target again in their bid to close the gap when they return to league action against the Seagulls tomorrow. You can watch the game live on BBC Two, kick-off 12.30pm.Embed from Getty Images
It’s a funny old game
From cliches such as “a game of two halves”, “the magic of the cup” to “the manager’s lost the dressing room”, which is mightily careless of him, it’s a game that has its own language. Where else will you hear about a team making an “audacious bid” or someone “finishing with aplomb”? And why must all deflections be “wicked”? While any Scottish football fan will tell you the words “fit and firing” must precede Leigh Griffiths even if his stats don’t back it up. Speaking of which, forget player ratings, grandad – in 2022 it’s essential to know your PPDA from AVB and your xG from Honey G…
But the real fun happens over on football Twitter. You haven’t truly made it in this game until you’ve become the subject of some dodgy photoshop featuring white capital letters or immortalised in a graphic. Football’s the gif that keeps on giving.
The hand of pod
After the final whistle has blown, the post-match debate and discussion goes into extra time. For many there’s now no better place to turn for analysis of controversial refereeing decisions, endless transfer rumours during the January window or entertaining chat about obscure rivalries like Brighton and Crystal Palace and old-fashioned ‘handbags’ than to their favourite podders. Listening to The Offside Rule – our weekly round-table format discussing the week’s football stories and giving behind-the-scenes insight – or watching football YouTubers became like catching up with your mates in the pub during lockdown and has helped fans suffering from isolation and loneliness cope during the ongoing pandemic.
While supporters covering their teams may be nothing new, it’s just now these intrepid reporters have turned their amateur pursuits into slick operations and are getting the respect they deserve as fan media. Expect to see more outlets sitting alongside traditional media at pressers this year, leaving supporters spoilt for choice in 2022!