Playing Football with Covid: Some English Fans Speak Up.


Playing Football with Covid: Some English Fans Speak Up.

By Fernando Gómez Herrero (fernandogherrerocom).

No one quarrels with the English fans about the original invention of the game of football, today the global king sport, or with the world hegemony of the English Premier League, the most competitive and most lucrative among the leagues, whether you keep count in pound sterling, euros, dollars of the Chinese yuan. English football is one of the most recognisable goods and exportable samples of brand Britain, together with the Monarchy, the lingua franca, the English language, the soft-power or the tertiary sector, the universities, tourism and leisure, and the general border-transcending entertainment and consumerism. Will the virus allow us to do things in the same way as before? What changes will happen in these live mass events?

King (or Queen) of all sports, football indeed, outside and inside these isles, ever so hungry and thirsty, for anything that has to do with sports, be it rugby, cricket, boxing, horse races, also with many fans. Combination of sports is fairly common, but it is football the majority culture, and the rest. Football is played, followed, studied and consumed at all levels by all sectors of society, class, race, and gender, which is a cause for marvel and wonder for the visitors, observers and foreigners not used to the British ways of life. The levels encompass the top-tier English Premier League, the second level, Championship, and two more below it, League One and League Two, and there are others below all the way down to the training of the youth in academies connected to the major clubs. Professional playing covers all top four levels and there is tremendous loyalty to the local club that remains alive and kicking, literally and figuratively, underneath the global show business of the English Premier League, possibly the most international collection of managers, players and staff members, not to mention fanbase, in the whole wide world. Hyperbole is warranted: it is not rare to see ten, fifteen nationalities, you name them, on the two teams playing on the pitch in the top league, that is, truth must be told, not Welsh, Scottish or Irish, but English.

Football stopped with the virus. It was mid-to-late March, soon after the Espanyol fans, the “cockatoos” (“pericos”), circulated with flags and chants, through the Birmingham train station on the way to Wolverhampton to be beaten by the strong Wolves of the great Portuguese manager Nuno Espíritu Santo. Three months later, there is a return to the pleasures of football, eyes peeled to what may be happening in the European vicinity with Germany, France, Spain and Italy. Is it going to work? The two lower leagues have been suspended. Two fans celebrate the automatic promotion of Coventry City to the Championship. We will see what happens in the following weeks. First match is Aston Villa and Sheffield in Villa Park behind closed doors.

People see football, follow it, play it, talk about it, discuss and obsess about it, listen to it, read about it, enjoy it, suffer it. There is an incredible level of analysis that one would only wish see transplanted to other domains in life. Gary Lineker is one of the most recognisable and better paid commentators running his popular programme, Match of the Day. A highly recommended experience for non-Brits is to watch a good match in a good pub surrounded by the fans, local and otherwise. Notorious hooligans are still there, but in smaller numbers and are quieter than they used to be. Just in case, it is worth your while paying attention to the colours of the day according to the match of the day in your viewing vicinity. There is a whole routine culture of “humiliation” of the stranger, the visitor, the passer-by. Here, there is no quintessential British self-restraint and I am speaking liberally. Mood changes quickly with the industrial consumption of pints of lager (drink wine at your own peril!). Football is one of the few settings in which it is o.k. to don a bright colourful garment with or without stripes, let your hair down, display passion and sing and mock and even in some quarters insult everything sane and sacred, making sense of ball playing under the (covid and Brexit) sun, adding salt and pepper to the expressive language of Shakespeare. Try others at your peril. Son of a gun? You will hear stronger language in high and low places in the football culture in the isles. Children, beware, and, speaking from experience, also beware of children near Aston Villa and Coventry City. Take some earplugs if you want to avoid headache the next day. Klopp’s Liverpool will win ahead of Guardiola’s Manchester City and both need no introduction.

I approached a handful of fans in the midlands’ vicinity. The idea was to get out of the brightest focus on the most recognisable teams and see some of the angles in these tough times of Brexit and the pandemic. This is what they tell us.

Charlie and James Shuker, proud Villans.

James Shuker / Aston Villa (https://www.avfc.co.uk/).

My football club who I have followed since the age of 5 is Aston Villa based in Birmingham. I am now enjoying raising a son who is also growing up and falling in love with the same club I did 30 years ago.

Unfortunately, we are both too young to remember our club’s finest hour, being crowned Champions of Europe in 1982. More recently, Villa have found themselves playing in the second tier of English football; however, the end of the 2018/19 season saw them promoted back to the Premier League.

Before lockdown, the last game we attended together was the Carabao Cup Final at the national stadium Wembley. As current season ticket holders, little did we know, this was the last time we would be watching them for a while.

Whether the current season is played to a conclusion or voided, has massive connotations for Aston Villa. They are currently placed in the relegation zone and, should the standings be declared final, this would see them demoted back to the [Championship, the] second tier of English Football. If this was to happen they would have to make massive changes to the running of the club, mainly down to the loss of income from television rights to show games.

Charlie and James Shuker standing tall in the Villa colours.

If the season was voided, Villa would remain in the top tier, however television companies may well then demand reimbursing for games that have not been played.

Aston Villa players, senior management and coaching staff have all agreed to a 25% wage deferral so that all other aspects of the club can run smoothly and no need for government involvement of the furlough scheme, a decision I am proud of my club for.

Another aspect of Villa and the community is that they have always had a very close bond with the local children’s charity Acorns. Players and staff often take part in fund raising activities and once Villa broke from tradition of a paid sponsor and instead promoted Acorns on their shirts (similar to Barca and Unicef).

It goes without saying that health and welfare comes first, but I very much look forward to the day that my son and I can stand on the terraces once more and sing our hearts out with 40,000 villains. UTV (up the Villa!)

Hope this is ok. (The scarf in the picture belonged to my Dad who passed it down to me, 60 years old!).

Trevor Davis / Coventry City Football Club (https://www.avfc.co.uk/).

Coventry City FC gains automatic promotion to the Championship because of the Covid interruption. Happy and loyal fan of Coventry City FC, abbreviated as “Cov” or “City,” Trevor Davis finds himself where he did not think he was going to be only last March. Fraught relations between the owners, the SISU Hedge Fund group, the SISU boss, Joy Seppala, the fans, and Town Hall have been part of the tempestuous picture for a long time. This season the team was not even playing in the historic stadium, the Ricoh Arena, but in Birmingham City’s, St. Andrews, 22 miles away. Still, the players managed to put all of this to one side and be on top of League One by March; hence, they were granted the automatic ticket to the promotion to the level up, the demanding Championship. The gap is huge in the quality of football as in the mindset and expectations in rewards and disappointments, also in revenue.

Trevor Davis accepts that he is a “promiscuous football fan,” seeing no shame in following City and many other clubs and other leagues on the radio and television, when he is not in person in the old stadium. A ten-year season-ticket holder, he did not go to Birmingham this season at all, despite the fact that the team only lost 3 matches in the season cut short three months ago. Attendances in the Championship make it one of the most watched leagues in the world and he intends to do so next season.

The budget, he calculates, will jump from 700.000 sterling to 4 million, which with add-ons, may turn into 6. From League 2 up, we are dealing with full-time professional players making a good living. He hopes the team will go back to the old stadium which is now owned by the rugby team, the Wasps (https://www.wasps.co.uk/), which were top team two or three years ago, but have come down since to reach the point of almost giving away tickets to have a good turnout. Tables have turned hence for "Cov" and they better get ready for the tough Championship. Trevor Davis listens to the radio live broadcast, surely not with Mrs Davis, if he cannot make it to the home stadium, with full concentration. He did not specify whether tea or beer or both.

Without the backing of Sisu, the club would not be where it is now, he says. And it could have gone into administration. Trevor Davis admits that he may get in trouble with the fans who mostly blame Sisu for previous troubles and the relegations over the last 10 years. There is ambivalence to say the least. He makes the comparison with the situation at Southampton where the owners were also searching for the golden pot and getting all the riches. The quick story to the long sage: Sisu withheld rent from the renting of the Ricoh Arena and the clash (of civilizations) with the Coventry City Council started and it continues to this day. His view: Sisu held the council to ransom, alienated and blackmailed the council in essence, because Sisu knew that there was no other football club in the vicinity who would go against the interests of City. But, surprise, surprise, the Wasps, who were based near London, bought the Ricoh.

So, that cocked a snook at the Sisu group and Sisu was incandescent because they thought the Council had not offered it to them first. It has been 6-7 years of legal disputes reaching all the way to the European Commission and the battle still goes on. Fans are disaffected and the Wasps think that such maneuvers are trying to bankrupt them. Sisu are perceived to be a kind of “cloak-and-dagger” hedge fund: you cannot reach anyone when you want to interview them. The lowest point was reached 5 years ago in the Council-Sisu troubles with fans invading pitches and crying out “Sisu out.” Paradigm of calm under considerable football turmoil, Trevor Davis' reading, “it got very bitter.”

Fan base is strong and loyal for a club of this calibre, attendance at Ricoh can be 7.000 and it can reach 10.000. He still remembers a match with Oxford in which Oxford brought 15.000 versus Coventry’s 45.000. “Oxford could not believe it!”This anomalous season, because of Stadium-migration troubles, fans did not go as much as usual to the Birmingham stadium and focused instead of going in greater numbers to the away games. And then covid hit.

Lady Fortune has been voluble and mostly cruel to the historic club: Coventry City is exceptional in the sense that it has played in every division possible in its 100 year history, Premier League, Championship, League One and Two, including two below, Division 3 South which then became North. Trevor Martin admits that the club was “the laughing stock.” Coventry was “not a fashionable side in that league” in 1999. He still recalls overhearing Spurs fans saying they could not wait for City to get relegated.

Trevor Davis embraces the promotion of Coventry City to the Championship.

Jimmy Hill, manager 1961-67, is the man of honour whose statue decorates outside the Ricoh arena. Ex-footballer, TV presenter, he hosted the very popular “Match of the Day,” he was also in charge of the football association, instigated changes such as getting rid of the maximum wage. He coined the “Sky Blues” nickname, the colours and the song of the team until today. The relationship between the football club and city around it?: 1961-2 was the peak of both, the motor industry and people had back then disposable income so that may account for the most glorious days, the Jimmy-Hill days, of the club. Hill is also behind the all-seater stadiums. Things went from good to bad to worse in the 1970s and 1980s, still winning the FA cup in 1987. Skirmishes in the 1990s with relegation fights.

Now, things are on the up, even if the team has to play behind closed doors because of covid. Big television-money will be welcome. The team should be o.k. in the Championship, which is the longest and most competitive league there is. The Premier League is the millionaire’s league. They will sign new players and get players from the lower leagues that would want to compete in the Championship. Covid-19 meant the promotion was fortuitous to be promoted the way it was and we do not know what is going to happen. No one knows. Trevor Davis bets for a mid-table or better: “I do not think we will struggle.” The social-distancing rule of 2 metres will become 1 metre and there will be 20.000 fans in the stadium

He does miss football and as a City Fan he is delighted to be promoted. Not a typical attitude, he proposes to unite behind Sisu, something he admits will not be too popular with most fans. But this is the chance. He intends to go to Ricoh Arena next season. The likelihood of using it is now better with promotion. When I tell him that my experience in the stadium was a bit rough, he concedes that fans come now from a “mixed economy” across all sections of society. The final message is one of unity, and to try to contain dissatisfaction, to increase the number of fans from 11.000 to 15.000 and to go to the Ricoh Stadium to support the team next season. Putting the rise-and-fall long history in perspective, Trevor Davis is happy with the current manager, Mark Robins, and he is optimistic about next season.

Trevor Davis optimistic about the future of City.

Emma Smith, Birmingham City FC (https://www.bcfc.com/).

I have always been a big football fan since I was a child, my family are not interested in football at all so I am not quite sure where my passion came from but I would watch every game I could and would often be found “playing football with the boys” – girls I was friends with weren’t particularly interested in football. Where I grew up, in Scotland, there were two camps; Rangers or Celtic – I found myself in the Rangers camp and would follow all their games with interest.

When I moved to Stratford-upon-Avon, 8 years ago – I knew that I wanted to find a football team close by that I could support and watch. This is when my love for Birmingham City Football Club began! I grew up in a big city so Birmingham had always sort of felt a bit like home and I love the atmosphere and the people – there’s always so much going on. A friend knew that I loved football and took me to my first Birmingham City game, it was an incredible experience! Birmingham City speaks to me on many levels, it is a team that is close enough that I can go and see the team play regularly, it is generally seen as a team for the working classes which is how I grew up, the community atmosphere on match day around St Andrews is amazing and BCFC are typically a bit of an underdog team – which I find exciting to watch, even when we lose. The players of BCFC are passionate about their support, their team and their community and that really speaks to me! My favourite player is Craig Gardner, who plays in central midfield. He was the first player I saw score at St Andrews and I loved the atmosphere of the chants around the stadium about him. He doesn’t play in games anymore but I think the chant “Craigy Gardner is a Blue!” will live on forever and we will still see him on the touchline as a coach!

Being a Championship side towards the bottom of the table, this is obviously a uncertain time for us as a team – the suspension of play due to the Coronavirus has left football in an odd place and we have previously had well documented financial issues which I fear may well become apparent again due to this current climate. We also have a caretaker manager in Pep Clotet our previous head coach with uncertainty as to how this will progress and who will take over. It is rumoured that Lee Bowyer, a fan favourite, may be tempted to make a return to the club in the future as manager which would be welcomed and supported by BCFC fans!

One thing is for certain though, I cannot wait for the day where we are allowed to go and watch the mighty Birmingham City Football Club at St Andrews!

Gregory (“Greg”) Sadler / Coventry City Football Club (www.ccfc.co.uk/).

Burrowed away in the unglamorous nether regions of the lower leagues of English football the fans of perennial hard luck story COVENTRY CITY grimace at the prospect of being a Club without a Home and The Champions without a Title. Such is the cruel price meted out to a Club whose fortunes grimly reflect the decline of the U.K. in general over the last 40 years.

In the pantheon of football hard luck stories, ours is one that still stands out. Coventry City are based in a large (ex) industrial city in the middle of England. Chiefly famous for Lady Godiva (1000 years ago) having a cathedral bombed to oblivion in WW2 (and reconstructed in the 60s as a classic of mid-century modernist design) and finally the two tone music of the Specials in the 1980s.

The Specials biggest hit “Ghost Town” was written about a City in industrial decline through the ravages of the brutal Thatcher government and the social unrest that brought. One bright spot was the football team “The Sky Blues” never a glamourous or rich team but one who had survived in the old First Division(and Premier League) from 1968 to 2001- the longest run in the top flight only bettered by Liverpool, Everton and Arsenal. They even won the FA Cup in 1987, when the competition was the biggest sporting event in the world- Beating Spurs in a memorable final in front of 100,000 people at the old Wembley Stadium.

But in the 2000s, football was changing, mid table teams like Coventry struggled to compete in an era of billionaire owners and they were relegated to the Championship. This is when the trouble really started. The club had gambled on a new stadium on the outskirts of the City. However, the money ran out and the City Council bailed out the club by buying the stadium. Suddenly, the club. were tenants in their own ground. As attendances dropped, the club found themselves just 30 minutes from oblivion as the money ran out and debts piled up. The club were saved by SISU Capital a London based hedge fund. The plan was to get the club back to the Premier League quickly and cash in. A serious of poor manager appointments including Ian Dowie and Chris Coleman saw the team slide even further down the league and they found themselves in the 3rd tier of English football for the first time in living memory. Points deductions for insolvency added to the insult.

Worse than this, SISU had gone on rent strike, claiming the Council were charging too much rent. Legal action took place and for the 2013/14 season the club left Coventry and played home games at Northampton- 35 miles away. Only 2000 fans followed them there. They were dark days, but worse was to come. In 2016, the club was relegated again to the 4th tier of English Football, a disgrace and embarrassment to a once proud club and city. By the time the club came back to the Ricoh Arena in Coventry, the Council had sold the stadium to a Rugby Club from London (Wasps) who now own the ground and the football club were again tenants in the stadium built for them.

Tom Sadler and the Blues mascot.

But something good had happened in those intervening years. Lack of funds had meant the club had developed a superb Youth and Academy system- players such as Calum Wilson and James Madison came through the ranks before moving on to the Premier League and providing the club with a vital source of funds. A new manager was appointed- Mark Robins, a gritty, no nonsense ex Manchester United player. It was his second spell at the club and knew all about the financial restrictions so was able to utilise the best of the academy players coming through with some wise loan signings. The club was promoted from League 2 in the playoffs in 2018. The first promotion since 1968 and the first time they had finished in the top 6 of any league since then.

And so to this season. Robins 3rd year in charge saw the team yet again move out to the Ricoh due to rent disputes- this time to Birmingham City and St Andrews, home of a local rival . Robins kept the team focussed and built on the momentum of the previous campaign. His team play a fast tempo 3 at the back style centred on accurate passing and energy. Unusually for Coventry, the defence was frugal and the team had lost only 3 games up until March. A fantastic unbeaten run of form since December saw the club top of League one- 7 points clear with a game in hand. Surely, promotion was just a matter of time…

Tom and Greg through thick and thin for the Sky Blues.

Coventry played their last game on 7th March, a win against previous promotion contenders, Ipswich Town. The week after, Football in the UK was cancelled due to Covid. Players were furloughed and as yet the League has not decided on whether to return to finish the season or to cancel the season. There is a desire to see promotion and relegation and by any formula (Points per game is most favoured) Coventry would be promoted. However, clubs underneath them and those threatened with relegation continue to argue about how the final placings should be decided.

When you support a club like Coventry, you expect the worst. How ironic that a return to (almost) the big time could be ruined by a virus- once again a non football issue that threatens the success of this proud club. IF, we are still promoted- even by algorithm, expect the biggest street party (socially distanced of course) since Lady Godiva rode naked through Broadgate in the 11th Century

With son Tom, they have supported “Cov” through thick and thin. If the promotion via algorithm is an odd way to go up, they are not complaining.

Mr Stickley showing his colours (Aston Villa).

Phil Stickley / Aston Villa (https://www.avfc.co.uk/).

As you know, I follow Aston Villa and have done since I was very small. My Dad took me when I was 6 years old and I was hooked- a claret and blue curse.

The biggest thing for Villa fans during the lockdown is what will happen regarding the rest of the season? Villa fans take pride in being founder members of the football league and the fact that William McGregor, associated with the club, was the driving force for setting the new league into motion. Villa are also former European Cup winners. Villa fans believe they have a right to top flight football. This is however massively juxtaposed with the fact that they are one of the three worst teams in the top-flight- though many die-hards would never acknowledge this. So, Villa fans hope for a solution that preserves their Premier League status while knowing that the team does not deserve this.

The other question at the moment surrounds Jack Grealish . At times this season, he has played the opposition on his own. He loves the club and was brought up a Villa fan. I think he will be gone, come what may- this is a symbol of everything that is wrong with football!

There is pride in the fact that Villa Park is currently being used as a maternity unit, to protect mothers and the wider NHS. This is what matters to me. Though I love football, it just doesn’t matter at the moment. All that matters is the health and well-being of the population. People are aware that the big games in Bergamo and Liverpool helped to spread this virus around the continent. If the greed of football causes a second wave of infection, many fans, myself included, will never forgive the game.

Paul and Liz in FC United of Manchester playing ground.

Paul Ensor / FC United of Manchester (FC-Utd.co.uk).

My team is 'FC United of Manchester' (FC-Utd.co.uk) [not to mistake with the most powerful Manchester United]. We play in the Northern Premier League (3 divisions below league 2). Our league has already been cancelled and will start again next season. This has been made more frustrating that the club were pretty much guaranteed a play-off spot and will now have to start again. Aside from the financial implications for my own club, my view of the Premier league is very much one of frustration. As we are a co-operative club (similar to FC Barcelona) the members help with fundraising and vote on decisions so we should be better off than most. We are just in the process of crowdfunding (£15,000) for new drainage facilities for our pitch at Broadhurst Park.

The proposed 'restart' of the Premier League season is purely driven by money, as usual, people (the players, the staff and their families) are willing to be sacrificed by the governing bodies under the flag of "it will boost morale for the nation". Seemingly it is one rule for society in relation to social distancing and another for the Premier League. Will the players be wearing masks and not tackling to maintain a 2 metre boundary? Covid 19 is bigger than the Premier League but they don't seem willing to accept this. The likes of Sergio Aguero have expressed concerns.

For once, the football top flight should follow in the footsteps of the lower leagues and my club and restart the season in August (if possible). How will those governing bodies feel if we lose some players or members of their families to Covid 19 as a direct result of them playing? No amount of money can bring them back and let's not begin to discuss the insurance claims if a player of a club died!

I've attached a couple of photos of us for you. One is from Wembley when we went to the England v Montenegro game in November (England secured qualification for Euro 2020) and the other is outside Broadhurst Park, Manchester. Home of my team, FC United of Manchester.

Fiona and David in their wedding photo.

Fiona /Southampton (https://www.southamptonfc.com/) and David Tandy / West Ham (https://www.whufc.com/).

David and Fiona support teams from different cities from where they have settled. David explains: Fi is a Southampton fan and I am a West Ham fan. We only go to a couple of games a season, but are invested enough for it to put us in a funk on the regular occasions we both lose. Fi is more passionate when we watch a game, and I am more of a football geek, less passionate but more likely to obsessively check transfer news and the like. For the first couple of weeks of football being suspended, I did miss it a lot. It's been such a constant in the background of my life, something to escape into whenever I needed to. However, since then, it's been remarkable how little it's bothered me that it's gone. The significance of it is so reliant on it being an unfurling narrative, and when the narrative stops and you're left to reflect on it, it all looks brilliantly silly. Like someone turning the lights on at a nightclub when everyone's in the middle of dancing. There was recently speculation that the Premier League may calculate final league positions weighted on points per game and home and away games remaining. If this were to happen, West Ham would according to some reports be relegated by 0.18 of a point. Three months ago, the thought of relegation made me sad and frustrated with the mistakes we've made as a club, given the opportunities we were promised by moving into the stadium built for the 2012 Olympics. Now, if it happens like that, I don't really care. If anything, I think it would be really funny. And if we disappear altogether due to financial issues, as many clubs surely will over the next couple of years, we will emerge again in a different guise. I find that very comforting. That football clubs are at their core communities of people, not businesses. I think sometimes we focus too much on the players, the board, and results on the pitch. That's all a sideshow to what football really is, which is a conduit for shared emotional experience as a collective group of people. That can happen in The Maracaná, or in a local park. Maybe I'm not missing football because that sense of a shared emotional experience is no longer something we have to seek out. It has very suddenly and unexpectedly become what daily life is.

Southampton players were the first club in the premier league whose players took a voluntary pay cut so the rest of the club's staff could be retained. Fi said this made her very proud, as it was a gesture that acknowledged the club was about more than profit and results, but also about community and supporting the city and those without the luxury of limitless funds to get through this period.

Liz and Paul in Wembley Stadium.

And, last but not least, Liz / Birmingham City (https://www.bcfc.com/) and big-time fan of the England national football team.

Liz is a passionate football fan who has travelled the world watching England, Liz (and Paul above) have both secured tickets to all of England's group games for Euro 2020 (now Euro 2021!). The revised match dates have yet to be confirmed by UEFA. In essence, that isn't overly problematic for them, but it does pose questions around fan safety and other matters

in the current climate [of covid health restrictions]. Spain and Italy have expressed concerns about thousands of fans actively travelling to different venues, even in 12 months’ time.

The personal angle for them is that the proposed wedding date is now on hold (June 26th 2021) as they don't want that to coincide with an England game that we are going to. Until the match dates are confirmed then they aren't proceeding with any wedding plans as they would not be willing to miss the football! They have paid more for our tickets than the wedding venue deposit! It is not quite “love on hold” (they already live together and have two children), but it is certainly a situation of “wedding-plans on hold.” Will they get their football and wedding soon?

Since 8, Liz has been into football. She is 33 now. Born in Birmingham. Her mother was West Brom Albion fan (https://www.wba.co.uk/). But somehow her early experiences going to see Birmingham City made her a supporter. It is, she concedes, more of a “heartbreak.” The club is “not renowned for celebration.” Call it stoic British spirit and Rudyard Kipling’s “If” poem, with some tongue in cheek, if you wish. She is a big, big supporter of the national team, England, since she was 16 or 18 years of age, from 2004-2020. She has travelled around the world to see the team play in the Euro-Germany, Ukraine, Poland, etc.

Violence? In one friendly match in France, she remembers, whilst queeing up, that the fans got hit in the legs with broken bottles. The French crashed the bottles in the legs of the English fans. She realised she had also been hit in this way when she saw blood streaming down…

She speaks of the passion of the game in international settings. She was “in her element.” The traveling, the atmosphere, getting to see places, talking to different people… How did she do it? She has never been loaded with money. So, the arrangement would have been economical, hostels for 2 nights. She remembers one friendly in Switzerland, Argentina – England, 1-2 (2 goals in 5 minutes): incredible! And there was racism this time towards the English.

The unmistakable statement is that “the big rivalry is with the Germans.” And her favourite player, “I will have to say [David] Beckham.” She feels positive about [Gareth] Southgate and the promising young players. The team is “not yet top 5, perhaps top 10.”

There is a before 1966 and a long afterwards that is now beginning to pick up, slowly.

National leagues are the ones most followed by most fans and the national team used to be treated like a national joke, bad luck in the penalty kicks being the epitome of some type of recurrent national humiliation. England won nothing except for 1966. This “nothing” still stings, comparatively with other more successful national teams, particularly the Germans and the Argentinians, and most recently the Spanish and the French. It has been 50 years!

They had tickets for Euro 2020 at Wembley, and both, Paul and Liz, explain to me how the competition was spread out through various capitals (Amsterdam, Budapest, Rome. St. Petersburg, Wembley, Dublin, Bilbao… ). Will this ensemble hold out with covid?

The contrast with Birmingham City cuts deep. The team was penalised last year for a series of misbehaviours and she acknowledges that. The team was knocked down a few good positions in the Championship last year (it is currently position 16 out of 24, at a considerable distance from promotion positions under the top two, Leeds and West Brom Albion). The League Cup of 8 years ago stands out, but she sticks to the club no matter what because of the locality and the family and the history of going with her mom’s boyfriend to away games since she was 15 years old. She is in a lifelong relationship with the club, come what may, hail, thunder or covid.

She admits to the rivalry and the violence been worse when Aston Villa is concerned and how big-police presence is needed among the different fights caused by alcohol-fuelled banter. She remembers one incident when different groups where launching fireworks at each other in the stadium, Villa being the more successful club, with more money and even Royal-House support, the “blue noses” (nickname of Birmingham City) are more working-class, the typical old-school [crowd], [of] 9-5 [working hours]. She enjoys singing the song club, which is long-winded at full pelt (https://bcfc.com/club-and-fans/club/history/club-anthem/). Her favourite player?: she points at Lee Camp, who she describes a “comical player” (https://www.bcfc.com/birmingham-city/players/lee-camp/).

A great anecdote happened last year for her birthday. She was invited by her partner Paul Ensor to go to Birmingham City' home stadium St. Andrews, to see the team play [also "home" base of the disaffected fans of Coventry City]. At half time, and after they had a nice meal in the corporate room, they went down to the side of the pitch. She had been told that she was going to receive a nice t-shirt signed by the players and that someone famous would present it to her. Perhaps, Paul Suen, the owner of the club, also owner of Trillion Trophy Asia, the sports company based in Hong Kong. Wasn't that exciting or what?

Little did she know. They proceeded to the middle of the pitch, Paul, no Suen, but Ensor, was telling her that they would also have the picture taken plus the signed shirt. And they reached the middle of the pitch at half time... At one point when she turned around, she sees Paul, no Suen, but Ensor, her partner, on one knee proposing marriage to her and showing her a ring and 28.000 fans started singing “you don’t know what you are doing, you don’t know what you are doing!,” which is mocking chant in English football settings addressed with no mercy at those who are under-performing in the match of the day.

The wedding plans are now on hold to see what happens with the Euro 2020, now 2021.

There is a final disagreement between Paul and Liz that can be aired. Paul does not want leagues to go on because of covid. Liz does, so that Villa can get relegated.

12 de Junio.

FGH, Warwick.

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